Students Come FIRST to Organization Promoting Tech
Bridgwater-Raritan High School's Team 303 qualifies for FIRST Robotics Competition's World Championships.
Bridgewater-Raritan High School senior Glenn Fisher has had an interest in robotics and technology since he was 10 years old when he and his mother traveled with his older sister and her high school robotics team to a For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competition in Florida.
And Fisher, who will be attending Princeton University in the fall, has been hooked on FIRST and—more importantly to the creators of FIRST—science and math ever since.
"I wanted to stay involved in robotics," said Fisher, who is now one of the BRHS robotics team's leaders and the administrator of the team's website.
Fisher's is one of several stories of young people inspired to develop a relationship and a competitive love for science, math and technology similar to the way kids develop a love for a sport—by being part of a team.
And with Fisher's drive, and the hard work of the rest of the team, the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Team 303 Robotics Team, recently qualified for the FIRST Robotics Competition's World Championships after qualifying at a regional event in Philadelphia.
The world championships will be held in St. Louis from April 27 through April 30.
"We had some struggles during the beginning of our qualification round, and we started out 1-5," said Team 303 captain Charlie Furey, a junior at the high school. "But we rallied with our minibot."
For the FIRST "coopertition," as it is called on the organization's website, teams nationwide are given identical kits and asked to build robots that can accomplish tasks from a predetermined list. At the regional events, like the one in Philadelphia, teams are randomly paired with two other teams and required to work together to accomplish tasks.
Team 303 is not only a team of math and science aficionados. The team also has a media sub team, public relations sub team and an awards sub team—recently created and led by junior Amber Schrum.
"Team 303 is really a family structure," Schrum said. "These people are my friends. I just wish more schools had FIRST competition teams."
The team, according to its website, was created in 1999 as a partnership between Bihler of America, the Midland School and Pingry Academy. When Pingry decided not to join the following year, Bridgewater-Raritan took its place.
But after the 2006 season, Bridgewater-Raritan was the only one left, and it moved forward as Team 303 Panther Robotics.
And the team has won several awards over the years for its robots and other works in competition.
Paul Kloberg—a science teacher at the high school and a mentor for Team 303—said the power of FIRST is held in the hands of the teenagers and other youngsters involved in the competitions.
"I used to operate a nuclear powered submarine," Kloberg said of his time spent as an engineer before he became a teacher. "Now I am responsible for a much more powerful ship."
According to Kloberg, in the late 1980s FIRST founder Dean Kamen was driving through farmland somewhere in the midwest early one night when he noticed a large amount of light coming from what he would discover was a high school athletics field.
"[That got Kamen thinking] just how much do we spend in resources on sports for our young people," Kloberg said.
Kloberg said Kamen found that there was money spent on building facilities, providing transportation and securing equipment and uniforms, in addition to the resources used for electricity to light the field, gas to fuel the buses, water for the fields and manpower.
"He asked what if we put that much energy into something that would directly effect the aptitude of our young people in the subjects of math and science," Kloberg said.
FIRST began with just 28 teams in 1992 competing in a New Hampshire gymnasium.
And at this year's World Championships, more than 580 teams will compete in one of four major levels separated by age group.
The biggest of the groups is the FIRST Robotics Competition, made up of high school students ranging from 14 to 18 years of age—Team 303 will be competing at this level.
Kloberg and his team spoke at a recent board of education meeting to show off their accomplishments at the recent competition, and explain about the upcoming championships.
"Hopefully it will all go well," Kloberg said at the meeting.
But to the students waiting in the back of the meeting room, Kloberg said they need to just do their best and have a good time.
"Hopefully, it will all go well," he said. "But have a good time because you have nothing left to prove."