Students who take part in the FIRST competition are nearly twice as likely to pursue a college degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) discipline, according to program organizers. When John Schanz, Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer at Comcast, heard about these numbers five years ago, he knew it was a program to stand behind.
"The fuel of my organization is engineering-type talent," John says. "Since inspired STEM majors are critical to keeping the pipeline of innovation full, we support programs like FIRST to provide opportunities in technology development. Later, we offer internships to college students and open career paths from the entry level all the way up to senior technology fellowships."
In the FIRST Robotics Competition, teams each build a robot from the ground up with the goal of resolving that year’s assigned technological challenge — such as ascending an incline or throwing a disc into a goal — within six weeks. During the 2012–13 school year, business groups all across Comcast — from engineering and technology to the legal department — helped 51 FIRST Robotics teams compete, and eight of them made it to the championships in St. Louis. "The program has gone viral," John says.
The FIRST teams we support often look, feel, and act like small businesses, with members dedicated to key roles beyond building the robot. Students also gain experience in web development, marketing, fundraising, and project management. In parallel, our 68 employee mentors draw fresh inspiration from the teams’ excitement and dedication. Parts of our technology development organization have even embraced the idea of a six-week build cycle to speed our own innovations.
We want to create as much opportunity as possible in technology to help ensure U.S. students are prepared for 21st century careers. "If we don’t have enough technologists and STEM majors, we might someday be a country that doesn’t understand how anything works," John says. "We want to remain leaders in innovation and drive a strong economy, which depends on us helping make it cool to have the answers in school."
To help achieve this goal, we offer the Comcast Technology and Media Award as part of our involvement with FIRST. This prize goes to the team that excels in using online and social media platforms to communicate and market the FIRST mission. This year’s winning students from Team Panteras in Mexico translated all of the FIRST registration and submission materials into Spanish — opening the door for more teams around the world to compete — and even created a Facebook account for Paquito Panteras, the team mascot.
We consider this an example of "coopertition" — the kind of cooperation among competitors that can help a team win FIRST’s Gracious Professionalism award. This award emphasizes one of our core values: the importance of teamwork in overcoming technological challenges and creating innovative solutions.
"We keep our energy behind FIRST," John says, "because it’s a smart way to encourage broad-based collaboration among students that will spur strong technology development for years to come."
Learn more at www.usfirst.org.