When there's a good thing in place, Argosy Foundation's job is to perpetuate it and help it grow. Hence, it was a natural fit when Argosy began its partnership with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a dynamic multinational youth-serving organization that aspires to make science, math, engineering and technology as cool as sports.

Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, FIRST was established in 1989 and demonstrates a remarkable track record. Its primary key to success lies in the dedication of over 45,000 mentors, professional engineers and teachers. These adults volunteer with students around the world, teaching them how to work together on teams while accomplishing things they never dreamed possible.

Argosy has taken an active role in stimulating a large and already successful component of FIRST – the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) – and helping it leverage new support.

High-tech spectator sporting events

FRC teams up professionals and young people to design robots to accomplish certain tasks. During an intense six-week period, they learn to debug and rebuild the robot, showcasing the finished product at regional competitions in the U.S., Canada and Israel. According to participants, these competitions – best described as high-tech spectator sporting events – resonate with the thrill of success and agony of defeat.

From start to finish, FRC shows students that the fields of science, math, engineering and invention are exciting, interesting and bursting with opportunity. Ian McEwan, FIRST's Director of Regional Operations, explains, “We can't wait until college to educate and mentor future engineers. We need to inspire them while they're young.”

In 2006, FRC will reach 1,133 teams (roughly 28,000 high-school-aged young people) in 33 regional events. Although teams hail from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Israel, Mexico, the U.K., and virtually every state in the U.S., there are some that require assistance to participate.

“We are working to create fundamental change so America has what it needs for future generations.”

Ian McEwan explains that the entry fee for FRC is $6,000 per team, plus travel and lodging expenses. Not all teams can afford this cost, so a $100,000 grant from the Argosy Foundation in 2005 has helped level the playing field for 44 teams that otherwise would not have participated.

FRC regional directors decide what teams receive grants and in what amounts. These grants typically range from $1,000 to $4,000 and go toward the entry fee. “It's not a handout to kids. It's a booster. It helps teams foster independence and self-sufficiency,” Ian says.

He explains that once a team has gained entry to the competition, participants use the grant to raise additional funds, generally from local schools, churches and businesses. “The grant helps ensure that a team gets into the competition. Team members leverage the grant to raise money for remaining expenses.”

Teams that receive grants hail from a variety of backgrounds but are often based in rural or central city areas, where fundraising can be difficult. Argosy's partnership with FRC gives every team the opportunity to participate, resulting in much-needed social connections. From prep schools to rural schools to central city schools, the kids learn from each other.

Many winners

In FRC, there are many winners.

Judges, who meet individually with each team, declare different winners based on criteria such as design, sportsmanship and innovation. Overall game winners are honored, and the Chairman's Award* lauds the team that has made the greatest impact on its community.

Regardless of how a team places, however, participants leave the competition victorious. “When you talk to parents about what this does to their kids' lives, it's amazing,” says Ian McEwan. “They often tell me their children have never before been so dedicated to something. It gives them direction.” In many instances, FRC alums go on to mentor kids following in their footsteps.

FIRST is a winner, too, thanks to Argosy's support. “Our relationship with Argosy is a model of what we're trying to build,” Ian McEwan says, explaining that it has generated greater visibility, more funds, and new volunteers for FIRST.

These resources ultimately allow FIRST to more effectively create a world where science and technology are celebrated by young people. This world might prove to be the biggest winner of all.

Says Ian, “We are working to create fundamental change so America has what it needs for future generations.”

More information on FIRST, upcoming competitions, and how to get involved are available on their website.

*The 2005 Championship Chairman's Award-winning team from Huron Valley Schools in Milford, Michigan partnered with the Detroit Science Center to create Science Night for local elementary and middle school students. It also designed a “sho-bot” called CASEY (Community Awareness of Science and Engineering Year-Round), who smiles, blows up balloons, and waves. In a unique and eye-catching way, CASEY spreads the message of FIRST at schools, parades, children's units of hospitals, science centers, and other community events.