February 8, 2011 — High school students from across Virginia will converge on Charlottesville on Feb. 12 for the FIRST Tech Challenge, a robotics competition that allows them to apply skills in engineering, math and science to build robots that face off in a series of technical challenges.
Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people.
Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs programs that build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. The not-for-profit organization hosts a variety of competitions for children as young as 6.
One of the group's most popular competitions, the FIRST Tech Challenge, will hold its Virginia State Championship at U.Va.'s University Hall, on Feb. 12 from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. After months of design preparation and practice, 48 teams of Virginia high school students will bring their robots to compete.
After a day's worth of head-to-head competition, the top teams will be rewarded with the opportunity to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship, to be held in April 27 to 30 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
In support of the event, U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science faculty, staff and students will serve as judges and referees and in other support roles. George Cahen, director of Experiential Programs at the Engineering School, helped FIRST organize and fund this year's competition. Northrop Grumman was also an important sponsor.
Cahen sees the competition as an avenue for attracting youth to study STEM fields, ultimately helping to enhance U.S. science and technological capabilities.
"FIRST Tech brings the 'STEM' fields to life for young students who will become our next generation of scientists and engineers," Cahen said. "FIRST's programs promote the advancement of science and technology, which will eventually lead to an efficient, scientifically advanced, environmentally conscious and technically innovative American society."