“Innovation has been the lifeblood of our country’s economy, fueled by a long-term partnership between the federal government and our nation’s scientists, technologists, and engineers,” Kamen said during his testimony. “I am here today to encourage you to ‘pay it forward’ for future U.S. innovators, the ones who will invent the things we have not yet conceived of, or even imagined. Somewhere out there are kids who can potentially cure cancer, eliminate infectious diseases, or build an engine that does not pollute. They may not know it yet, but they are the future, and you can help inspire them to pursue those paths and provide them with the skills to seize those opportunities.”
Kamen was invited to testify at the hearing entitled “Private Sector Programs that Engage Students in STEM,” which was assembled to review STEM-education initiatives developed and conducted by private organizations in order to learn what is being done by these organizations and industry to support STEM education and to ensure the federal government can leverage, not duplicate, these initiatives. FIRST is supported by a comprehensive network of thousands of small and large businesses.
While addressing the Committee, Kamen spoke to the critical need to close the STEM-skills workforce gap, and predicted that the closure of this gap could in turn help close the country’s budget deficit.
“I am here to ask you to support schools, especially under-served schools, to gain access to FIRST, so that every child in America can discover his or her passion for innovation, while meaningfully preparing to contribute to the STEM economy and workforce,” said Kamen.
Since FIRST was founded 25 years ago, the not-for-profit has amassed four robust, hands-on, STEM-learning programs for students in grades K-12, and currently serves more than 350,000 student participants, is supported by a network of 130,000 Volunteers and 3,500 Sponsors, and presently offers more than $19M in scholarship opportunities for high-school students.
In addition to Kamen’s testimony, four high-school students had the opportunity to address the Committee in support of making FIRST programs more accessible. Each student remarked upon how FIRST had made a positive impact on each of their lives.
One student, who is legally blind, told the Committee:
“I could never play sports, and I never seemed to fit in with any other groups, clubs, or teams. Here, however, I feel like I belong, and nobody judges, and I’ve made some wonderful friends over the past year and a half. Also, before robotics I didn’t want to go to college at all, and just wanted to work somewhere where I wouldn’t see people. Because of the confidence that robotics gave me, I’m now looking to go to college to become a teacher at a school for blind students. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, and it’s a decision I will never regret.”
Kamen founded the not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) public charity, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), in 1989 to inspire young people to pursue opportunities in STEM fields. While FIRST has seen steady growth over the years, Kamen affirmed that he will not be satisfied until there is a FIRST program in every school across the country.
Other witnesses invited to testify on the issue included Hadi Partovi, Co-founder and CEO of Code.org; Dr. Kemi Jona, Director, Office of STEM Education Partnerships, Research Professor, Learning Sciences and Computer Sciences, Northwestern University; and Dr. Phillip Cornwell, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With support from over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and more than $19 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST®Robotics Competition (FRC® ) for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for Grades 4-8; and Junior FIRST® LEGO®League (Jr.FLL®) for Grades K-3. Gracious Professionalism® is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. To learn more about FIRST, go to www.usfirst.org.