Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers and Scientists

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This year, United Technologies sponsored 51 high school robotics teams in the 20th annual FIRST® Robotics Competition. UTC-sponsored teams represented high schools from 14 states, and 15 of these teams advanced to the FIRST Championships held in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis earlier this spring.

More than 25,000 attendees filled the home stadium of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, making it the largest FIRST Championship ever. This year, the Black Eyed Peas hosted a special concert to honor the FIRST students, actor Morgan Freeman refereed a Robotics match, and Aneesh Chopra, the U.S.’s Chief Technology Officer, delivered a message from the White House emphasizing the importance of STEM education.

Last year’s champion team, Bobcats Robotics, from South Windsor High School and sponsored by UTC Power, again advanced to the semi-final round before being upset in the final round. Six UTC employees served as mentors for the Bobcats including Chris Carnevale, Lynn Casagranda, Eric O’Brien and Dave Schroeder from UTC Power, Ulf Jonsson from UTRC; and Pete Matteson from Pratt & Whitney. These six volunteers were among the more than 70 UTC employees who donated their personal time and technical expertise, teaching teamwork and sparking interest in technical careers.

About the competition
Commonly referred to as “the varsity sport for the mind,” The FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 high school students are challenged to raise funds, and to design, build and program robots that must perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a high school student can get.

“You end up with a small company which handles budgets and time constraints, while having to design, build, wire, and program a complex machine, with 80 percent of its members being under the age of 18,” said Eric O’Brien, a senior design engineer at UTC Power. “To me there is no better experience to prepare a student going into any field for their career.”

This year’s competition began in early January when teams received a kit containing basic parts, motors and software. With guidance from their mentors teams had six weeks to complete their robot and prove its capabilities in regional competitions, and hopefully advance to the Championship round. To learn more about the competition, click here.

United Technologies Involvement
United Technologies became a FIRST sponsor in 1995 and has contributed more than $3 million to the program. “United Technologies supports STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education through partnerships with organizations like FIRST because doing so helps support the next generation of engineers and scientists necessary for companies like UTC to remain leaders in the global aerospace and commercial building industries,“ explained Andy Olivastro, manager of community affairs for UTC.

Sponsors like UTC have helped spur FIRST’s impressive growth. This year’s FRC competition featured 2,075 teams, representing 11 countries. Twenty years ago, during FIRST’s inaugural program, just 28 teams participated in a New Hampshire high school gym.

“FRC serves the students well by creating a celebratory environment at the competition akin to a spirited football game,” said Bob Tarn, a project manager at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Dana Susca, a staff engineer at Hamilton Sundstrand, agrees, saying, “The single best thing about the FIRST program - for the kids - is that the learning and fun potential is off the charts! For the mentors, it’s the opportunity to give back and teach kids about real world engineering.”

In addition to advancing STEM education, FIRST also provides a platform to introduce students to United Technologies. With that in mind Bill Sisson, Director of Sustainability at UTRC, announced a new UTC-wide internship program designed specifically for FIRST alumni. “This is a great way to maintain contact with the top talent of the FIRST program who are well equipped to be tomorrow’s innovators,” Sisson said during his closing ceremony address.

This new program has already received praise from mentors and attendees. In fact, Hamilton Sundstrand’s Rockford, Ill., campus will welcome a FIRST alum as an intern this summer, said, John McInerney, a systems engineer at Hamilton Sundstrand. “The single best thing about this program is seeing the students who really take-off into science and engineering,” McInerney added.

UTC was also represented at the Championship Round with a recruiting booth, showcasing each of the business units. The display provided UTC staff with the opportunity to educate both the competitors and event visitors on United Technologies – and to personally attest that UTC is a great place to work.

“UTC’s participation and support of the FIRST Robotics program can be seen as a natural pipeline to our various talent initiatives, and is a welcome addition to our portfolio of recruiting programs,” said Jason Cerrato, manager of UTC’s strategic recruiting programs. “The announcement of our FIRST Robotics internship program was well received by students, mentors, and parents (with numerous applications submitted on the spot from the competition floor) – and our UTC booth, complete with product videos and UTC giveaways – helped introduce the UTC businesses to a lot of budding engineers and scientists.”

How you can participate
Interested in being a part of the action for the 2012 season? Team mentors and volunteers are in high demand as teams are actively fundraising, participating in community events and preparing for the start of the 2012 FIRST challenge. Visit UTC’s FIRST website for more information or to sign up to join the excitement as a team mentor.

A special congratulations to the UTC-sponsored teams advancing to the 2011 Championships:

Team name Location BU affiliation
Techno Nuts Berlin, Connecticut Pratt & Whitney
RAGE East Hartford, Connecticut UTRC
Buzz Robotics Enfield, Connecticut Hamilton Sundstrand
Aces High Windsor Locks, Connecticut Hamilton Sundstrand
The Bobcats South Windsor, Connecticut UTC Power
Children of the Swamp Riviera Beach, Florida Pratt & Whitney
SPAM Stuart, Florida Pratt & Whitney
CyberKnights Southington, Connecticut Pratt & Whitney
Gaelhawks Shelton, Connecticut Sikorsky
Crash Team Cheshire, Connecticut Sikorsky
Eagle Engineering West Hills, California Pratt & Whitney
Team Combustion Slidell, Louisiana Pratt & Whitney
Rockford Robotics Rockford, Illinois Hamilton Sundstrand
Walt Marietta, Georgia Carrier
Simsbury High Simsbury, Connecticut UTC
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