FedEx Blog

FedEx Blog

Programming the Future

April 6, 2017

In 1989, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and the portable insulin pump, generated new opportunities for students ages 6 to 18 years-old with this forward-thinking idea: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Putting young people first

Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit that connects kids with mentors and programs to “explore real-world scientific challenges” and:

  • Grow their problem-solving skills
  • Nurture cooperation and self-esteem
  • Get them excited about science and innovation

And what’s more exciting than robots?

Gearing up for the future

Every year from January through April, high school students around the world compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Facing strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams must build and program robots to perform assigned tasks — with no instructions.

Students, with guidance from adult mentors, handle every aspect of the project, from fundraising to branding to high-level engineering. In the process, they learn invaluable lessons about determination and teamwork — lessons that, in their future years, can easily apply to operating a small business.

FIRST Robotics competition

Moving parts

Each January, at kickoff events all over the world, young people wait for their specially delivered kits of robot parts. These kits must arrive at the same time to teams based everywhere from Brazil to Israel to the Dominican Republic to Iowa.

It’s a logistical challenge. FedEx has stepped in to donate free shipping for the kits. And in April, FedEx ships the completed robots to two annual championship events in Houston and in St. Louis, in specially built wooden boxes. All told, FedEx donates roughly $1 million retail value of shipping each year.

“Our chairman, Fred Smith, created an industry over 40 years ago with an idea that seemed impossible at the time. We see this young generation of inventors and innovators, and their minds are wandering to places we can’t even imagine. We want these people working for us at FedEx.”

— Tabatha Stephens
Manager, FedEx IT Communications


Funding ingenuity

This year brings a return of the ever-popular FedEx Innovation Challenge, an interactive, social media–based competition that lets participants show off their creativity and their math and science skills. Teams take photos, participate in a scavenger hunt, answer trivia questions and solve complex STEM-related challenges (science, technology, engineering and math). Prizes include a $5,000 grant for future FIRST Robotics competitions.

Thousands of teams have participated, and it has been a huge hit. “140 characters are not enough to express how thankful we are and how much this means,” tweeted Pi-Rho Maniacs, a past winning team.

Making connections

FedEx is an active supporter of the FIRST Robotics Competition Rookie Grant Program. This program builds relationships between innovation-minded mentors and teams hungry to learn from real-life experts. It also creates a fund allowing rookie teams with financial need to apply for grants.

Get information on submitting an application.


FIRST and FedEx: A perfect fit

It’s really no surprise that FIRST and FedEx are such a good match. “Innovation and technology are part of our DNA at FedEx,” explains Tabatha Stephens, manager of FedEx IT communications. “And they’re definitely part of the DNA at FIRST.”

Through their involvement with FIRST, young people are getting excited about science and the push toward the next great idea.

“Over the years, the support that FedEx provides to FIRST has grown and evolved along with us,” said Donald E. Bossi, president of FIRST. “We are grateful for their unwavering enthusiasm for our mission and look forward to many more years of collaboration.”


    Melissa Smith says:

    So proud of how far FIRST has come and the ongoing partnership FedEx provides to that amazing organization!

    Charles Colman says:

    I have enjoyed serving as a judge for both the 4-8 grade and 7-12 grade Lego competition for the past several years. Each year I have been impressed by the participates at both levels. The first year I judged robot design I recall a team of three young ladies with a unique solution to a design problem. The youngest member of the team told they had considered five options, they quickly discarded three as impractical then chose between the remaining two based on five criteria. I have engineers working for me that would a have difficult time explaining such a sound process.
    I gladly recommend that if you have the opportunity to participate as a coach or judge do it!

    Ebrahim says:


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