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CHIPS Articles: SPAWAR Motivates Students to Pursue Careers in STEM at FIRST Robotics Competition

SPAWAR Motivates Students to Pursue Careers in STEM at FIRST Robotics Competition
By Elisha Gamboa, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Public Affairs - March 18, 2019
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (NNS) -- Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) leaders engaged with students to encourage the pursuit of degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at two back-to-back regional For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics tournaments during the month of March at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.

Employees from SPAWAR its Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific mentored and coached 13 high school robotics teams who competed at the Del Mar Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament, March 1-3, and the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament March 7-9.

Now in its 30th year, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is an international high school robotics competition where teams of high school students, coaches and mentors work together during a six-week period to build game-playing robots that are designed to complete a number of tasks against a field of competitors.

“SPAWAR works alongside organizations like FIRST to educate and motivate students from a young age to actively participate in STEM related fields,” said SPAWAR Commander Rear Adm. Christian Becker. “Interacting with the students, mentors and coaches at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Competition I witnessed firsthand the impact we are making in developing the future of our economic and national security via these talented and diverse young people.”

During the competition Becker and SPAWAR Chief Engineer Rear Adm. Ronald Fritzemeier personally interacted with a number of competing robotics teams to learn about their experience with FIRST, hear about their involvement in the competition, and speak to them about their future in STEM.

“I know from personal experience as a FIRST Robotics student, to now a FIRST Robotics coach and SPAWAR employee, that students who participate in FIRST Robotics gain enthusiasm for and experience in engineering that most would not receive until they enter the workforce after college,” said Garrison Price, a NIWC Pacific engineer who participated in the events.

At the Del Mar Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament, SPAWAR mentored 3 out of 34 competing teams. While at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament, SPAWAR mentored 10 out of 47 competing teams.

“With such a high demand from teams to compete in the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournaments, our region recently expanded to a second tournament model to foster an increased interest in STEM,” explained Brian Williams, SPAWAR/NIWC Pacific STEM Robotics Outreach Coordinator.

SPAWAR, NIWC Pacific and NIWC Atlantic employees have the opportunity to coach and mentor FIRST teams in their local areas. With the support from the Department of Defense, SPAWAR has engaged more than 100 teams in the past 10 years.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon, this year’s robotics challenge was titled “Destination: Deep Space.” The competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources and time limits, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks during competitions.

This year at the San Diego Regional, several SPAWAR mentored teams were recognized with awards including:

  1. Chairman’s Award - Team Spyder (FRC#1622) (who will also advance to the World Championship in Houston).
  2. Regional Engineering Inspiration Award - W.A.R. Lords (FRC #2485)
  3. Innovation in Control - Hot Spot Robotics (FRC #2853)
  4. Quality Award - Aluminum Narwhals (FRC #3128)
  5. Gracious Professionalism Award - The Hammer Heads (FRC #1572)

Additionally, Del Mar Regional award winners included:

  1. Safety Award - Titanbot (FRC #2543)
  2. Imagery Award - Patribot (FRC #4738)

Founded in 1989, FIRST is an international youth organization that operates the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Lego League Jr., and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.

SPAWAR identifies, develops, delivers and sustains information warfighting capabilities supporting naval, joint, coalition and other national missions. SPAWAR and its Naval Information Warfare Centers (NIWC) consist of more than 10,000 active duty military and civil service professionals located around the world and close to the fleet to keep SPAWAR at the forefront of research, engineering and acquisition to provide and sustain information warfare capabilities to the fleet.

Wanda Curtis, SPAWAR/NIWC STEM Robotics Coordinator, contributed to this article.

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Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Commander, Rear Adm. Christian Becker engages with students at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Commander, Rear Adm. Christian Becker engages with students at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.

San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament takes place March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.
San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament takes place March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.

Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Commander Rear Adm. Christian Becker engages with students at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Commander Rear Adm. Christian Becker engages with students at the San Diego Regional FIRST Robotics Tournament March 7-9 at the Del Mar Fair Grounds in San Diego, Calif.
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