Imagine the sound of hundreds upon hundreds of voices swelling then crashing over the melodies of 80s bands that are currently all the rage, as long as you grew up in the 80s. Imagine blue-haired men somersaulting while holding flags. Imagine deafening cheers, hair spray, face paint, pom-poms, giant cows. Imagine competition with no rivalry or booing. This is FIRST, a program dedicated to science, education, really cool robots and duct tape (lots and lots of it!). The acronym FIRST stands for “for inspiration and recognition of science and technology,” which is a mouthful even for those who have had a sibling in this program for four years.
After a grueling six-week marathon of robot construction, charging batteries, smallish conflicts and finding imaginative places to wear safety glasses, students met to compete, mingle, do the Macarena and still not sleep enough. It was three full days of freewheeling roboteering, punctuated occasionally with trips outside to eat or watch Long Beach's seagulls.
As the competitive rounds progressed, from practice to elimination to semifinals to finals, the matches got more and more intense. As the day stretched out, a crescendo of nearly unbroken screaming drowned out the music with the audience leaping to its feet as if they were attending a football game.
Then the tension breaks with the final buzzer. Only three out of dozens of teams have won this regional event, but the other teams don't seem to mind. The best part of FIRST, after all, is the fun, the adrenaline and the friendships forged along the way.
Don't misread my smarmy attitude — FIRST's program is incredibly hard, incredibly draining and incredibly stressful at times. But the lessons learned are imperative — students deal with the stresses, the miscommunications, the conflicts. In a huge way it prepares you for a tough job many members of FIRST teams are aiming for. It teaches you to cope with difficulties graciously and professionally and, most importantly, it teaches you to share the duct tape.
Francesca Wilby is a student of Hillside Learning Center in La Cañada Flintridge.