Guest Blogger: Christine Tempesta, MITAA director of strategic initiatives
If you want to be inspired—by kids and adults alike—the World Championship for FIRST (For Inspirational and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a wonderful setting.
An MIT contingent for this year’s April 25-28 event included the co-chairs of the MIT-FIRST Alliance from the K-12 STEM Education Working group Mindy Garber ’82 and Matt Haggerty ’83, SM ’86, along with several Alumni Association and Admissions staff. They traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, for a dose of robots and enterprising global youth as well as visits with MIT alumni, current students, and admitted students who are mentors, coaches, volunteers, parents, or participants.
We met dozens of alumni and students at all levels, which begin with six-year-olds in the Jr. FIRST LEGO™ League, then progress to FIRST LEGO™ League (FLL), FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), and finally with 18-year-olds in FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Each participant and team has a FIRST story.
Take, for example, the tale of two admitted students in the class of 2016 and their appreciation of Woodie Flowers SM ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73, national advisor to FIRST. Sophia Wu and Anna Olson participated on FRC Team 840 of Aragon High School in San Mateo, California, which won the Silicon Valley Regional Engineering Inspiration Award. But before they headed to St. Louis, the two young women visited MIT during Campus Preview Weekend. Their FRC mentor Vic Scheinman ’63 introduced them to Professor Warren Seering, who toured them through Flowers’ office. He said he thought the girls might “faint with excitement when I suggested they sit in (Woodie’s) chair.” At the championships, the students met Flowers at an MIT reception, where he autographed the pictures they took in his office.
John Pflueger ’85, SM ’88, PhD ’91, representing Dell Computers, was excited that his FTC Team 2468 of Austin, Texas, had stepped up to the next level. Michael Teitel SM ’86 mentored rookie team FRC 3825 from Ventura County, California, with members from multiple schools and a catchy name—the “Circuit of Life.”
Local St. Louis alumnus Jeff Klohr ’87, SM ’88 was on hand as coach for his daughter’s FLL team. Admitted student Luther Banner of FRC Team 1985 was a Dean’s List Finalist last year and this year sported a team uniform with “Mr. MIT” printed on the back. Admitted student Cecilia Cisar of Cypress, Texas, was participating in her second championship along with her parents Al ’73 and Marilyn ’76.
One alumna was doing double time at the event. Sandra Contreras MBA ’06 formed a league of FLL teams last year, and this year her own FLL team made it to the championships. But she was also there as an employee of FIRST, who recruited her to work as a regional director after the championships last year.
MIT was represented on the podium where speakers like Megan Smith ’86, SM ’88, vice president of new business development at Google, and her classmate, Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill ’86, got rousing welcomes from the audience. At FIRST, geeks rule.
As we flew home, we were warmed once again to see students asking Woodie Flowers for autographs in the airport. On board the airplane, the flight crew saluted him, and all of the passengers gave the professor a round of applause.