This post is authored by Steven W. Pflantz, president of ISA 2017.
In a few days, an event will take place in two American cities that will play an important role in encouraging high school students to pursue careers in engineering and automation.
The 2017 FIRST® Championship – an annual celebration of young people's passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – will take place 19-22 April in Houston, Texas and 26-29 April in St. Louis, Missouri.
The showcase event of the championship is the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), where finalist teams enter industrial-sized robots they have designed, programmed, and built. This year's FRC is expected to involve approximately 85,000 high school students on more than 3,400 participating teams throughout the world.
As strategic alliance partners of FIRST – which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" – ISA and the Automation Federation send exhibit representatives each year to the FIRST Championship to meet and interact with event competitors, and educate them about the automation profession and how to plan for careers in the field.
I'm proud to say that I'll be one of those representatives at this year's event in St. Louis. In fact, I've attended and participated in every FIRST Championship ever held in St. Louis.
Why is it important to me that I take part? First and foremost, it's inspiring. The caliber of the kids involved never ceases to amaze me. They tap into that part of me that ignited my own zeal for STEM learning and drive to become an automation professional.
I want to share with them my experiences and my enthusiasm in the hope that some of them will want to learn more about automation and automation careers.
Secondly, it makes a personal impression. There's no substitute for face-to-face interaction. I get to tell these young people what automation really is all about, what an automation professional really does, and which educational and training paths to follow in order to become one.
These young people get direct insights-first hand, from a working professional in the field-about financially and personally rewarding career opportunities. Who better to talk about these types of careers than the people who are actually in them?
Research reveals that FIRST is making a real difference in encouraging students to continue their STEM learning and pursue STEM professions.
Studies by Brandeis University show that school engagement increases for FIRST participants. For instance, among FRC participants, 90 percent plan to take more challenging math or science courses, and 91 percent are more interested in attending college. In addition, FIRST participants are twice as likely to major in science or engineering, with 41 percent majoring in engineering.
Of course, getting involved in STEM events and initiatives like FIRST supports ISA's advocacy goal. Attracting more talented, motivated young people to our profession is essential to the future of the Society as well as driving innovation and economic growth.
All members of ISA should recognize that they have an opportunity as shapers and ambassadors of our profession. It should be our collective goal that when we leave it, we leave it in better hands than when we entered it.
Whether it's getting involved as a coach or mentor for a FIRST team in your area, or contributing in another STEM-related program and effort, there are so many ways for you to make a difference.
For some great ideas and guidance, visit the advocacy websites ISA develops each year for its Automation Appreciation Month (November) recognition. You'll find ways you can:
- Host a workplace tour for students
- Organize an automation career fair or related event
- Sponsor, participate in or contribute to a robotics or STEM-related activity
- Be a mentor -- Speak at a school or to others about automation-related careers
In addition to being inspired and invigorated by the experience, you'll be making a great investment in the future of our profession, our young people, and our society.
About the Author
Steven W. Pflantz, PE, is an associate in the St. Louis, Mo. office of CRB Consulting Engineers, Inc., a global consulting, design and construction services firm. He serves as a technical leader on many of CRB’s electrical and automation design projects, applying his extensive electrical engineering experience — particularly in the areas of instrumentation and controls. A longtime ISA member and leader, Steven brings to his role as Society president a deep understanding of the automation profession, the needs and expectations of ISA members, and the value and significance of automation careers. In 2012 and 2013, he served as vice president of ISA’s Professional Development Department. He’s also served on ISA’s Executive Board (2008 and 2012) and as an ISA district vice president (2007 and 2008). In 2012, Steven was inducted into the Academy of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He’s also a member of the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE). He earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
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A version of this article also has been published at ISA Insights.