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Here’s to the Tinkerers – FedEx and FIRST Robotics

April 24, 2014

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Do you know a tinkerer? There are a few definitions of this term and some are not so positive. My definition of a tinkerer is a future innovator – someone who is passionate, creative and committed to solving problems and helping others.  
 
When inventor Dean Kamen was a kid, he tinkered with things in his garage. He would spend hours taking things apart, putting them back together, taking them part again and reconfiguring them. Over the years, this intensive tinkering led Dean to explore and invent devices such as the first drug infusion pump, a robotic arm for disabled veterans and an all-terrain electric wheelchair known as the iBot.
 
Perhaps the tinkerer or innovator you know is the kid who lives in your neighborhood or your own child? Well, we need them. We need every innovative young mind we can find to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities and invent the next wave of life-saving devices. In fact, America needs approximately one million more STEM professionals in order for the U.S. to remain competitive as a national leader in STEM.
 
That’s why companies like FedEx are supporting FIRST: to fuel the workforce with innovative, entrepreneurial thinkers and strengthen America’s leadership in innovation. We’re so grateful for the support that FedEx has provided FIRST for the past 13 years, providing in-kind shipment of Kits of Parts to participants around the world, shipment of completed robots to our championships, and this year even a monetary donation to help rookie teams get involved in FIRST.

And FIRST participants are heeding the call.  They are handling real-world robotic engineering challenges alongside professional Mentors, many of whom are from sponsor companies. In addition to learning real-world STEM skills, FIRST participants are developing soft skills such as teamwork, communication and project management.
 
FIRST students advance from our programs, including the rigorous FIRST Robotics Competition (one of four FIRST programs for students in grades K-12), to STEM studies in college. Indeed, an independent study of FIRST participants conducted by Brandeis University revealed that they are more than three times as likely to major specifically in engineering and about ten times as likely to have had an apprenticeship or co-op job in their freshman year of college. Many of our sponsor companies offer college internships tailored to FIRST participants’ STEM knowledge and leadership skills, aiming to hire them once they graduate college.
 
Today, many of our FIRST alumi are working on important projects such as:
·      Developing an iPhone application that helps NASA engineers test drive the Mars Rover
·      Building a robotic arm controlled entirely by leg movements that assists the special needs population who have limited use of their upper bodies
·      Working with doctors to find ways to improve the kidney cooling process during robotic surgical transplants.
 
So the next time you see a tinkerer playing with LEGO toys or taking apart his or her bicycle, tell them about FIRST.  We will help cultivate their curious, creative imaginations so they can devise solutions to our world’s most pressing issues. Along the way, these kids find out that solving problems and becoming future STEM leaders in our workforce is actually a lot of fun.

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