FIRST to Celebrate 30 Years of Inspiring Students’ Interest in STEM

FIRST to Celebrate 30 Years of Inspiring Students’ Interest in STEM

Committed to inspiring youth to become interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology—is a worldwide organization that is preparing to observe its 30th anniversary.

FIRSTlogoEstablished in 1989 as a not-for-profit charitable organization, FIRST provides youth with opportunities to work hands-on with mentors in the fields of science, engineering, and technology. FIRST’s goal is to inspire new leaders and innovators in STEM fields. The organization promotes two lifetime philosophies: “Gracious Professionalism,” which emphasizes treating competitors with respect and kindness, and “Coopertition,” which emphasizes teaching and learning from teammates, mentors, and competitors. These philosophies are expressed throughout FIRST’s core values of impact, discovery, innovation, inclusion, fun, and teamwork.


A Global Reach

In 1992, FIRST hosted its initial robotics competition. Subsequently, EPCOT hosted the robotics competition championship from 1995 to 2002.

In 1998, FIRST partnered with LEGO to offer a robotics program. The partnership was expanded in 2004 for children ages 6 to 10. FIRST teams were honored in 2007 at the White House by President George W. Bush, and six years later FIRST participants were invited to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

During the 2017-2018 program year, over 530,000 students in more than 95 countries participated in FIRST. Along with over 200 sponsors, FIRST offered approximately $80 million in scholarships and 2,000 scholarship opportunities. The organization hosted 2,900 events, and 70,000 students participated at its annual championship. Altogether, 61,000 teams participated in FIRST, and over 44,900 robots were created.


Variety of Programs

FIRST offers four programs, which include FIRST LEGO League Jr., FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, and the FIRST Robotics Competition. The programs each have their own age requirements and annual themes. For 2019, these themes relate to space exploration. The programs emphasize coding, programming, and engineering. Collaboration is also emphasized, and all teams are led by at least two adult coaches and mentors.





FIRST LEGO League Jr. is designed for children ages 6 to 10, or kindergarten to fourth grade. Teams of up to six members explore a scientific concept, build a motorized model, and create a poster that describes their learning process. The 2019 theme is “Mission Moon.” Children will consider how people might eat, drink, and breathe on the moon. They will also consider the challenges that people living on the moon might face and will build a LEGO moon base with motorized parts. Moreover, they will keep an engineering notebook that they can display along with their team poster at the annual expo.



FIRST LEGO League is designed for children between the ages of 9 and 16, or grades 4 to 8. Teams of up to 10 members examine real-world problems, and they design and build LEGO robots that function autonomously on a tournament playing field. The 2019 theme is “Into Orbit.” Children will build robots that are capable of completing space-themed missions, such as deploying a solar panel array, extracting core samples, or moving a LEGO astronaut figure. Additionally, children will consider a physical or social problem faced by people during space travel, design a solution to the problem, and prepare a presentation about this solution.


FIRST Tech Challenge

FIRST Tech Challenge is designed for children ages 12 to 18, or grades 7 to 12. Teams of 10 to 15 members design, build, program, and operate robots who play a floor game in partnership with a robot built and operated by another team. The 2019 theme is “Rover Ruckus.” Children will build robots who can descend from a lander, collect minerals from a crater, and sort the minerals in the cargo hold of the lander. Several awards will be offered to teams at the championship, including the Inspire Award for the team does the best job of demonstrating the spirit of FIRST and acting as representatives of FIRST in the local community, the Design Award for the best industrial design elements, and the Think Award for the best engineering design process.


FIRST Robotics Competition

The FIRST Robotics Competition is designed for young people ages 14 to 18, or grades 9 to 12. Teams of 25 or more use limited resources to build and program robots that complete tasks against robots from competing teams. The teams also raise funds, brand and market their teams, and perform community outreach. The 2019 theme is “Deep Space.” The youth will imagine themselves as having a critical mission on a make-believe planet and design a robot to launch and carry out that mission. Several awards will be offered to teams at the championship, including the Engineering Inspiration Award for the team that does the best job of promoting respect and appreciation for engineering within the local schools and community, the Entrepreneurship Award for the best team business plan, and the Industrial Design Award for the best form, function, and efficiency in machine design.