#MIKidsCan Build Robots: FIRST Demonstrates Power of Innovation at #MPC15

Alex Anderson thought she wanted to be an English teacher, but a robot changed her mind.

After participating on her high school’s FIRST Robotics team at Traverse City Central High School, the senior now has her sights set on pursuing a mechanical engineering degree.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said of her experience with FIRST.

Anderson and her FIRST teammates were showing off their state final-winning robot at the Mackinac Policy Conference, demonstrating its ability to stack plastic containers and even “steal” containers from unsuspecting nearby rival robots.

The team estimates they spent close to 300 hours developing their robot over a span of six weeks. Their presence at Mackinac underscored one of the conference’s main pillars, which is developing innovative approaches to improving and cultivating talented workers in the state.

“It really has impacted their career choices,” said John Failor, the team’s coach.

Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, is on a mission to help even more kids learn about and love science and technology. Kamen was a featured speaker at the conference on Wednesday. He said the cost of not getting students excited about technology fields means we’re opening ourselves up to not only losing jobs to other states, but to other countries.

It’s Kamen’s goal to create a culture that celebrates science and technology accomplishments the same way we celebrate sports heroes and Hollywood starlets. He applauded Governor Rick Snyder for his promotion of FIRST. Snyder was the recipient of this year’s “Make it Loud” award, for mentioning FIRST in his State of the State address earlier this year and for being a champion of science and technology education in the state overall.

In fact, Snyder invested $2 million in the state’s FIRST Robotics program for fiscal year 2015. According to Snyder’s Reinvention blog, Michigan is home to the most FIRST Robotics teams in the country with 345 teams, 107 more than California. The blog also touts Michigan as “the center of the fast-growing robotics industry with nearly 58,000 robotics jobs, the third most in the country.”

Snyder explained at the conference that the best way to solve income inequality in the state is to develop talent in the skilled trades and STEM fields. By doing so, Snyder believes Michigan can have a strong strategic and economic advantage moving forward.

“That’s our great opportunity,” he said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is the Diamond sponsor of this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Watch live streaming coverage of the conference from Detroit Public Television right here.

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Photo credit: Julie Bitely

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