On Wednesday, the President honored math and science educators at the White House and announced several new partnerships and programs in a continuation of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign, an initiative designed to energize and excite America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In November, Steven Harris and Brian Hortellano were invited to the White House to help the President kick off “Educate to Innovate.” After the President’s remarks that day, Steven and Brian demonstrated a robot they built as part of the 2009 FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics competition.
In this blog post, Steven writes about how he became interested in robotics, why he believes STEM is important to the future of our country, and the experience of meeting President Obama. A video of the event is posted below this post.
I have been a part of FIRST Robotics for eight years. My first exposure to FIRST Robotics was in fourth grade. On Saturdays, when my brother was a member of the team at Oakton High School, I got to go to the team meetings because my father was a parent mentor for the team, helping the members of the team build and design the robots. The first time I got to go to a meeting was when my mother was away on a trip, so I went to the meeting with my brother and father since I could not stay home alone. After my first meeting I was hooked and could not be convinced to stay home. My brother was a senior the year he did robotics, and the next year my sister joined the team so I continued to go to the meetings. Up until my first year of high school I was an honorary member of the team and got to watch and learn from the team but did not actually get to contribute to the robot.
From those first experiences with robotics when I was little more than a bystander—only getting in the way—I have now become a leader on the team. Having seen many robots built, I am able to guide the team through the process of building a robot. Also, as one of the leaders on the team I help coordinate the website and animation teams so that the whole team functions together smoothly.
Our country is caught up in the midst of many problems. We expel large amounts of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to global climate change. We get most of our energy from dirty and inefficient sources. We are in the middle of an economic downturn that has cost many Americans their jobs. These problems are exactly the reason why science and technology education needs to be a priority. Science and technology provide the base of knowledge from which people will invent and innovate solutions for our country’s problems. While other disciplines and majors have their own significance to our nation, the majority of the solutions to our problems will come from students who study math or science. Currently not enough students are studying math and science. Programs such as FIRST Robotics introduce students to math and science in a way that is enjoyable and engaging while still being educational. These programs need to be made more available to students across the country.
Getting to meet the President was a great honor. Presidents Obama’s recognition of the work that Brian and I did in FIRST Robotics reinforced in my mind that what we were doing was important. Plus the national recognition that FIRST got that day has helped the organization gain more visibility, not just within my own school but across the country.
Steven Harris is a student at Oakton High School in Vienna, VA