As strategic alliance partners of the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship held last week in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, the International Society of Automation (ISA) and its umbrella organization, the Automation Federation, hosted an informational exhibit where competing students learned about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field.
More than 12,000 students, ages 6 to18, from around the globe gathered April 23-26 at the Edward Jones Dome to put their engineering skills and scientific know-how to the test at various FIRST competitions. The showcase event, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), gives students the opportunity to build robots they designed, use sophisticated software and hardware, learn from professional engineers, compete and collaborate, earn recognition, and qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships.
This year, 68,175 students on 2,727 FRC teams in 17 countries participated in 98 regional and district competitions. In total, more than 350,000 students across the globe participated in FIRST science and technology competitions during the 2013-2014 season. Nearly $20 million in college scholarships, for more than 900 educational opportunities, will be distributed.
“Even though I have attending this event for several years and know what to expect, the caliber of the kids involved in FIRST never ceases to amaze me,” emphasizes Steven Pflantz, an associate at CRB Consulting Engineers who serves as Chair of the Automation Federation’s Workforce Education Committee. “The success of future generations lies in the ability to take talented youth and focus and motivate them, and FIRST seems to have all the right ingredients to make that happen. While I feel good about the information and advice I have given to some of these future automation professionals, they have inspired me to want to do more. I’m already thinking about next year’s event.”
Pflantz was among a contingent of ISA and Automation Federation leaders, volunteers and staff who participated in a FIRST Championship exhibit to interact with student competitors, improve their understanding of automation, and broaden their awareness of automation career fields.
“It was a real pleasure to speak with these young people, many of whom will determine the future of automation,” remarks Cory N. Kniepp, a district sales manager at ASCO Numatics and President of ISA’s St. Louis Section. “I believe the future of our profession is very bright as I was blown away by the skills on display at the competition. It was an amazing experience that only re-energized my own love science and technology, and I look forward to attending future events to see what the kids will come up with next!”
Carrie Tietjen Systems, a systems architect at Experitec, Inc., who also volunteered at the ISA/Automation Federation exhibit, says that she was impressed that so many students were beginning to explore possible career opportunities in automation and engineering.
“FIRST is such a unique and gratifying event,” Tietjen states. “It was rewarding to hear that some of these students were already interested in all types of automation, everything from designing and engineering prosthetic devices to designing roller coasters for Disney.”
Pflantz says that FIRST competitions are so valuable because they encourage young people to apply science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge in a fun environment and expose them to practical skills—such as problem solving and teamwork—that they will need in the real world.
He encouraged all automation professionals to get more involved in working and mentoring with young people, and to inform them about the many advantages of pursuing a career path in engineering and automation.
“It’s an honor for ISA and the Automation Federation to partner with FIRST,” Pflantz says. “I encourage all automation and engineering professionals to get involved in FIRST on a local level. I guarantee that you will be invigorated and inspired by the enthusiasm and talents of these remarkable young people.”
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