FIRST Tech Challenge celebrates 10 years at UI

FIRST Tech Challenge was brought to the UI to engage students in STEM-related career fields. Now, the program celebrates 10 years in partnership with the UI College of Engineering.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017.

Alexandra Skores, News Reporter

Ten years ago, FIRST Tech Challenge came to the University of Iowa to engage students in STEM-related fields. Since then, the program has touched the lives of many interested students and brought them to the UI to pursue their passion.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge, a program in partnership with the UI College of Engineering, encourages middle-school and high-school students to build and design their own robots.

FIRST, a worldwide nonprofit STEM-engagement program, was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to continue the momentum for young students’ involvement in STEM-related activities.

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FIRST models its activities and initiatives by its core values: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork, and Fun. These values are expressed through the program’s philosophies of “Gracious Professionalism” and “Cooperation.”

According to the UI College of Engineering website, students must design, build, and program their robots for competition. Teams are also given awards for their work, according to the website.

Rebecca Whitaker, the UI coordinator of the FIRST Tech Challenge programs, said FIRST Tech encourages many students to get involved.

“The College of Engineering sees this as a great recruitment tool,” she said. “The UI is able to get our name across the state and inspire kids to pursue STEM-related careers.”

On Feb. 22 and 23, more than 450 Iowa high-school students representing 48 teams will be involved in the state’s FIRST Tech Challenge Competition in Coralville.

As a freshman in high school, Noah Douglas — a current UI engineering student — began in the FIRST Tech program. The program inspired him to continue to pursue the career further, he said.

“It’s really good for middle- and high-school students,” Douglas said. “The program allows you to participate in real-world application of the stuff you’re learning in school. I definitely plan on continuing working with the program and inspiring other kids to learn more.”

Teams that qualify this weekend will be given the opportunity to advance to the World Championship in Detroit in April.

Samuel Murphy, another UI engineering student involved with FIRST Tech, began his involvement with the program during his four years in high school.

“Throughout my time in the program, I began to gain more interest in engineering and was the lead builder for both teams,” Murphy said. “I would say that my involvement is what led me to choose engineering as a career choice. Now that I am in college, I volunteer at competitions and am still heavily involved in the program.”