If we have the ability to help make a student’s dreams come true, what’s stopping us from doing so?
That’s something I wondered when I was a high school student, because in my town, I wasn’t able to compete in a FIRST Robotics competition until I was in ninth grade. Of course, I was grateful I had that opportunity at all – so many students still don’t – but I knew that had I participated sooner, I would have benefited from earlier exposure to the important STEM skills robotics can teach.
That’s why I’ve made it my duty to turn that question into action over the last few years, using the wonders of 21st-century technology to help students here and all around the world take advantage of all that robotics has to offer. It’s also why I encourage educators everywhere to ask themselves the same, challenging them to see how they can better serve their students, through robotics and beyond, simply by accessing existing resources.
First, some background. I helped start FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) and FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams across 14 high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools in my district. But it was in seeking to help students participate in FIRST in other countries that technology really played a vital role.
The summer before my junior year of high school, I met two Stanford University graduate students who were volunteering at an impoverished school in Cape Town, South Africa. I sent FLL supplies to the students there so they could start their own team. They did, and as a result, they were able to do what they never thought possible – travel outside their city for competitions that are fun, and that help them gain a STEM advantage over those who don’t yet have such programs.
Technology has allowed me to keep in touch with this team, and it has also allowed me to keep in touch with an FLL team I helped start in Singapore – one of my high school teammates was from Singapore, and she said that girls in the building she used to live in were interested. I also got to mentor a FIRST Global team in Bosnia – for which I hopped online at 2-3 a.m. to make sure they had everything they needed to be successful.
Not only has technology helped me accomplish my big-picture global dreams of connecting more kids with robotics opportunities, it has also helped me accomplish more personal goals, like attending the United States Air Force Academy.
In my own personal research, I came across STEM Premier – now Tallo – and really liked how it was like LinkedIn for high school students. It was through Tallo that I got a software development internship before my senior year, an opportunity that “beefed up” my resume, so to speak, and as a result, it was through Tallo that Air Force/ROTC programs and other companies started to reach out to me.
Establishing these connections before I got my diploma made what’s usually a difficult and confusing time for many students so much easier. It gave me a better idea of what I wanted to do and what steps I needed to take to do it, and that’s something that all students should absolutely have access to.
Fortunately, they can. But instead of coming across sites like Tallo by simple happenstance, as was my experience, educators can certainly help students bridge that gap by learning about, and connecting them to, such resources.
A decade ago, if someone was asked, “What’s stopping us from making students’ dreams a reality?” they may have answered, “A lack of technological capabilities.” Today, we know that’s no longer a valid excuse. So, then, we must ask ourselves a new question: What are we waiting for?
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