“We don’t use kids to build robots; we use robots to build kids.”
-Dean Kamen, founder, FIRST
United Technologies Corp (UTC) recently competed in its 24th consecutive season of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) – a K-12 mentor-based robotics competition designed to motivate students to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In that time, UTC has contributed more than $20 million and thousands of employee mentors have made an impact on the lives of tens of thousands of students.
UTC awards grant funding to teams that are mentored by employee volunteers across the UTC business units including Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace, Carrier and Otis. This season, 155 employees volunteered their time, talent and expertise to support FIRST teams as mentors, judges and onsite event support.
FIRST’s comprehensive program design fosters an environment where hard and soft skills intersect. In the short term, employees guide students in their robots’ design, coding and functionality, calling upon all STEM disciplines – but that’s just the beginning. Through FIRST, students learn to collaborate and troubleshoot in a group setting; develop interpersonal communication skills and self-advocacy; and build self-confidence and leadership capabilities – all under FIRST’s culture of “gracious professionalism.”
Pratt & Whitney Senior Engineer and eight-time UTC mentor Jacob Troiano competed at the FIRST World Championships in Detroit, Mich. April 25-28 with his team Bobcat Robotics out of South Windsor, Conn.
“Every year, I look at our seniors, and I’m amazed by how much they’ve grown from the opportunities FIRST affords,” says Troiano. “I’ve heard people refer to the robot as the ‘campfire’ around which we all gather, and I really like that analogy. The robot grabs people’s attention and gives us a common objective to work towards, but it’s still just a means to an end. Our team’s ultimate product isn’t a robot; it’s people.”
UTC Corporate Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility Randy Bumps agrees. “FIRST’s holistic approach to knowledge and character building creates greater breadth and depth than its peers,” says Bumps. “For more than three decades, FIRST has exposed students to STEM fields with enthusiasm and purpose, allowing signature partners like UTC to take an active role in shaping the next generation of engineers and innovators. When UTC implements diversity and lateral thinking among the students who we mentor, we improve tomorrow’s workforce and reinforce our commitment to supporting causes that make a difference in the communities where our employees work and live.”