Last Saturday I attended the Boston Regional event for the FIRST Robotics program. Being in Boston they were able to attract some big name judges. People like Steve Wozniak who helped start Apple Computer. Bob Metcalfe who invented Ethernet. And Helen Greiner the chairman and co-founder of iRobot.  There were some impressive people in the audience. Dan Bricklin, who invented the spreadsheet program, was there and did a podcast of interviews with people who were there.

I’ve been involved in FIRST at various levels for a number of years. My son was on a team about 12 years ago when the program included fewer than 30 teams across the country. This year there are over 1100 teams in several countries. There will be 33 different regional events this year plus the Championship event in Atlanta next month.

I helped start a team (Team 811 Bishop Guertin HS) when I was teaching. They just completed their fifth year as a team. Well actually if they make it off the wait list they will be competing in Atlanta. I hope they get the chance. I was amazed at how much interest in engineering and science FIRST generated. A lot of students were inspired to look at area of education that they had never ever thought about before.

One of the things I noticed this year was that the number of girls involved in FIRST continues to climb. At the Boston event three of the 44 teams were all girls. All of the teams seemed to have significant numbers of girls. People at FIRST say that there are upwards of 30% girls in the program. That could be better of course but it is growing.

The girls who are involved do not seem to give up anything about being a girl either. From girls on the repair team (think this is where your hands really get dirty) with cheerleader skirts on over the jeans, to interesting hair styles to clothing accessories that are “all girl” these girls are not giving up on their identity. Members of FIRST teams are valued for what they know and do regardless of other factors. It has a heavy emphasis on cooperation and people, even on competing teams, helping each other.  It’s really a great program that way.

There are 8 more events taking place this coming week-end. If there is one in your area (check here for the list of events) I highly recommend you drop in on one. FIRST has to be seen to really be understood.