OGDEN, Utah – About 200 youngsters will convene Jan. 14 at Weber State University for an innovation and robotics competition aimed at sparking interest in science and technology.
WSU is partnering with the National Defense Education Program through Hill Air Force Base to host a Utah FIRST LEGO® League qualifying competition for youth ages 9 to 14. Twenty teams of up to 10 members, plus their coaches and families, are expected at the event, set for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Shepherd Union Building.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a non-profit organization, founded in 1989, that has created a set of robotic competition programs designed to excite and inspire students to excel in math and science.
FIRST LEGO League competitions are designed to introduce school-age children to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO Mindstorms robots to complete prescribed tasks. Participants design, build, test and program the robots; apply math and science concepts; research challenges; learn critical-thinking, team-building and presentation skills; and compete at tournaments.
“The FIRST organization recognizes that if you catch kids during their development and you ignite an interest or confidence in math, science or engineering, the odds of them following a path like that will be that much stronger,” said Rainie Ingram, student recruitment and Science Technology Engineering Programs (STEP) director for WSU’s College of Applied Science & Technology (COAST). “That’s especially true with girls. Studies have shown that by ninth grade, if they have not experienced enjoyment or developed confidence in mathematics they are less likely to pursue a career path that uses math.”
This is the first year for WSU to be involved in FIRST LEGO League. The WSU event is one of nine qualifying tournaments in Utah, all in January, with winning teams advancing to the state championship Jan. 28 at the University of Utah. Approximately 1,500 youngsters in 150 teams are expected to compete at the qualifiers this year, up from 60 teams last year. Teams can come from schools, churches, neighborhood or civic groups.
After an eight-week research, design, and build period, teams take turns navigating their robots through a variety of challenges on thematic playing fields. This year’s tournament theme is “Food Factor,” with a focus on food handling and safety. Teams also compete for robot design, innovation project presentation and other awards, such as “friendly competition” and “gracious professionalism.”
To keep the competition friendly, team members, coaches and parents often wear silly outfits or hats. “The most important thing is fun,” Ingram said. “The mission is to get kids excited about science and technology.”
Ingram said WSU benefits by having the youngsters and their parents exposed to the university and its programs, especially those in COAST. “There are statistics that show that every time a secondary student visits a university or college setting, it increases the odds of them pursuing a degree in higher education,” she said.
Hill Air Force Base ultimately could benefit by having WSU teach its potential future employees, she added. Of the 50 volunteers involved in the WSU event, at least 80 percent are employees at the base. “We’re creating a wonderful relationship with them,” Ingram said.
According to FIRST, its 560 qualifying LEGO League tournaments, 116 championship tournaments and three open championships are expected to have 198,000 participants in 19,800 teams across more than 55 countries in 2011-12. Its tournaments get help from about 54,000 volunteers worldwide, including 500 in Utah.
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Rainie Ingram, student recruitment and STEP director for COAST
801-626-7785 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Brice Wallace, office of Media Relations
801-626-7212 • email@example.com