NASA robotics inspiring the next gen of feds

Monday - 3/28/2011, 9:31am EDT

Herb Muktarian, publicity chairman, FIRST DC

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The FIRST Robotics Competition kicked off its Washington D.C. Regional competition last week. The NASA sponsored contest pairs high school students with professional mentors, to design and build a robot as a solution to a technical engineering problem. VIPs at the event included Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry.

Herb Muktarian, Publicity Chairman for FIRST DC Regional, told Federal News Radio the event's goal is to inspire the next generation of engineers and innovators, and prepare them for a technologically advanced workplace.

"It's a great way to introduce young people to the excitement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Muktarian, "by involving them in a hands on way in the process. It's really not just about building and creating robots. It's about all the other things that you develop and learn as part of that process, such as working on a team, decision making, facing tight budget deadlines, tight timeframe deadlines. All those things allow young people to really be engaged in the process, do it in a hands on way, and then see the fruits of their labor in terms of their ability to come to the competition and compete."

But before any of that can happen, said Muktarian, there's the planning.

Around the first of the year, the teams are given a kit. They've got a box of parts and no instructions. At that point, the game for the year which changes each year, is revealed to them and they have six weeks in which to build a robot to compete in that game. They rely very heavily on the input and guidance of mentors that volunteer to support the teams - sometimes teachers, sometimes parents, sometimes engineers and technologists that are working in one of the many corporations and organizations that sponsor FIRST.

Muktarian said students, "gain a ton of experience" learning the robotics, but the competition " is really beyond just the robots. It is a terrific exposure for young people to develop their skills across the board, but become interested in these fields, and hopefully pursue that as a career. There's such a need for young people to come out of school and have those kinds of abilities and it's foundational for the future success of the nation."