Never have I fully appreciated the powerful impact that engineers and technologists can have in mentoring young people until I started working at FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) – despite having several engineering degrees and more than 25 years of experience in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. Not that my career experiences in fiber optics, digital media, and venture capital weren’t exciting; I have enjoyed tackling many challenges in each of those areas over the years. However, the FIRST community has shown me how critical STEM professionals are in developing the next generation of technology leaders and innovators. And, their influence comes not a moment too soon.
To retain our national competitiveness, the U.S. needs approximately one million more STEM workers over the next decade than we are currently on track to produce. Luckily, through partnerships with companies like Comcast and NBCUniversal and their support of our FIRST teams and competitions, we are inspiring and developing the next generation of innovative, entrepreneurial thinkers through hands-on, mentor-based FIRST programs. These young people will become the professionals who will handle the complex challenges of the future.
I recently saw the wonders of STEM mentoring unfold at the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL®) Global Innovation Award Ceremony held at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va. Three FLL teams from Massachusetts, Iowa, and Santiago, Chile were named finalists in the Global Innovation Award contest for their innovative solutions to deal with the often-devastating effects of natural disasters. These students, ages 9 through 16, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, came up with original (not to mention practical and patentable) ideas and ultimately learned how to make positive contributions to society through their inventions. FIRST mentors are impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of individual students every year, and in doing so, they are inspiring these young people to become future engineers and "do-gooders" who will have the skills and motivation to solve global issues.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being in Philadelphia to witness local FIRST team members – from Lansdale Catholic High School’s Cyber-Crusaders, Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy’s Firebirds and Wissahickon High School’s Miss Daisy – demonstrate the abilities of their robots before Comcast engineers and technologists and other curious onlookers at Comcast’s corporate headquarters. As a sponsor and mentor to 54 FIRST teams across the country, Comcast and NBCUniversal wanted to celebrate the spectacular technology talents of the teams, and give them an opportunity to showcase their hard work.
I am excited that Comcast and NBCUniversal are such a strong supporter of FIRST and our mission. Together, we can help young people explore their entrepreneurial thinking and leadership potential. I look forward to working with more Comcast and NBCUniversal volunteers who believe that FIRST is truly an investment in the future.
Donald E. Bossi just celebrated his one-year anniversary as president of FIRST, a not-for-profit organization that inspires young people to be STEM leaders, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build STEM skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities. To learn more about FIRST, please visit www.usfirst.org.