DISTek has been supporting FIRST® programs for many years through donations of time and financial support. This past March, DISTek was a sponsor of the Iowa Regional, which featured FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams, and took place on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. The four day competition featured robot matches where two teams of three robots navigate a field to test each robot’s engineering prowess. Behind the scenes, teams presented to judges, describing their robot, how the team functions, and their greater impact on their communities. These judges then evaluate and nominate teams for awards that can qualify a team for the next level of competition – The World Championship – in Detroit. There were 61 teams that competed from eight states and two other countries. Besides being a sponsor of the event, four DISTekians helped out. Dillon Glissmann, Paul Mueller, and I served as judges, while Mike Weno helped make the video stream of the competition possible.
This year’s theme was POWER UP (SM). Teams were trapped in an 8-bit video game (1980’s flashback). They were to use power cubes to defeat the boss.
This was the second year I judged at the Iowa Regional. Judging is fun but very challenging. Each team has a story. The students work together to build a robot, which in some cases is a small part of the story. FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology, inspires teams to also share their passion with others. This includes helping other teams form – be it other FRC teams, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), FIRST LEGO® League (FLL), and FIRST LEGO League Jr. (FLL Jr.) teams. Some teams help create teams in their community or state, while others help get teams started in another country. Some teams visit with elected officials to share the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs like FIRST with their state legislators, while others visit their country’s leaders. Involvement in FRC provides students the opportunity to learn skills they will use once they graduate. These skills include working as a team, creating a budget, raising money, presenting to others, competing graciously, and helping other teams succeed. Although this is a competition where teams have a strong desire to win, they also help their fellow competitors, which may include letting them borrow a part so they can be on the competition field. You occasionally hear of athletes helping their competition get across the goal line, but in FIRST, helping a competitor compete is the norm. FRC is known as the varsity Sport for the Mind™.
Besides hearing how FRC makes a positive impact on the students and what they are able to achieve as a team, I enjoyed seeing the elation when a team learned they had earned an award. Their joyful tears were touching and memorable.
I look forward to continuing my involvement with FIRST programs as a coach, mentor, judge, and volunteer in the future. I am proud of the fact that DISTek donates to FIRST teams and events, while encouraging DISTekians to donate their time and help encourage the next generation of problem solvers. As someone that is involved in the interviewing process at DISTek, I enjoy hearing candidates talk about how FIRST involvement led them to pursue engineering and a possible career with DISTek.