Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Robophiles promote science and technology among K-12 students.

Bradford Paik

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has sounded exactly like my Korean father. Science! Technology! Engineering! Math! These are the career fields of the future. IâÄôll admit, though, Obama is more eloquent than my dictator dad (no, papa Paik isnâÄôt North Korean).
Whether youâÄôre frustrated with what Obama has (or hasnâÄôt) done as president, he deserves credit on his STEM campaign âÄî an important pursuit heâÄôs dedicated to. Through it, he aims to enhance K-12 curriculum, involve underrepresented groups in STEM and keep the U.S. competitive in these fields.
Tech companies are buying into this idea, too. Intel Corp., Xerox Corp. and Texas Instruments Foundation are just some of the companies and foundations supporting this endeavor. But itâÄôs not just major corporations funding the creation of a greater nerd-dom âÄî students at the University of Minnesota have a hand in this as well.
Enter GO FIRST, a student group that mentors high school students as they build robots for friendly, yet intense, robophile competition.
The fast-talking founder and president of GO FIRST, junior Renee Becker, is eager to share that the group originated to help a community they love and to mentor kids. They didnâÄôt do it because it would look good on a résumé but simply to give back to high school students.
And this plan to help students runs deep. GO FIRST is part of the international FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) organization. FIRSTâÄôs goal is to change cultural ideas about science and technology.
âÄúFIRST looks to change pop culture,âÄù explained Becker. âÄúSo students look up to scientists the same way they look up to celebrities and sports figures.âÄù
The world would be much better if we replaced the sex-crazed, coke-addicted, lesser half of Emilio news whore with a sexy yet smart scientist.
ThatâÄôs why FIRST was founded in 1992. ItâÄôs a program that engages K-12 students and encourages them to pursue careers in science and technology. From Lego leagues to robot competitions there is robot fun âÄî and education âÄî to be had by all.
GO FIRST, along with mentors from the industry, helps with six high schools. Four of those schools are Minneapolis-based; the other two are in Wisconsin and Washington. Via Google Docs and Skype, technology has allowed GO FIRST to reach out across the country.
And GO FIRST doesnâÄôt just help build robots. They instruct on grant writing and help with media and marketing. More importantly they provide something schools donâÄôt.
âÄú[FIRST] provides âĦ real-world experience and access to people who work in the industry,âÄù said Becker. âÄúStudents can find out what they want to do.âÄù
Along with real-world experience, GO FIRST promotes teamwork and builds a familial community. And this FIRST community doesnâÄôt end when students leave for college.
Most of GO FIRSTâÄôs founding members had participated in FIRST while in high school âÄî now, theyâÄôre giving back.
âÄúBecause of the mentors I had âĦ I wanted to do the same once I graduated,âÄù explained Becker.
This type of attitude, camaraderie and professional guidance whilst forging onward in education is exactly what students need.
And while my inner geek (and inner Korean) cries out for STEM, ultimately, similar programs should be instituted for all career paths.
Offering young adults a direction âÄî or at least a sense of one âÄî will save time, money and the risk of squandering a degree. The sooner students know what theyâÄôre passionate about, the better prepared they can become for that career path.
I think thatâÄôs what Korean-dad-like Obama wants. Pushing STEM fields is important for our nation. But providing direction and experience in the career field students choose is just as important, if not more.