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Alese & Morton Pechter

State Finalists Pose for cameraWe have traveled the globe, writing and photographing everything exciting we could discover but found some of our most inspiring travels very close to home. There is nothing more uplifting than to see youngsters involved and enthusiastic about activities that take them beyond the classroom.

Recently we have had the pleasure of being present at the finals of the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics International Competition held in Orlando, Florida and the National Science and Engineering Competitions held locally, regionally, statewide and then finally at the Intel International Science and Engineering Competitions which were held this year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. FIRST also has local and regional competitions.

As a parent, grandparent or teacher, you have probably been involved in one of those school science projects at some time in your life, but have you ever seen the best of these projects in one auditorium with bright eyed, enthusiastic young people just waiting for the chance to tell you about their discoveries? The National Science & Engineering Competitions take place all over the world and all have days when the public is invited to view the materials and hear about the projects. You can spend the day at your child's school ... or visit one of the regional or State sites ... and if you want to see the best of the best you can travel to the Internationals. We were present in Philadelphia for the 1999 finals. Next year the Internationals will be held May 7-13, 2000 in Detroit, Michigan.

At the local level, you will probably know most of the participants and can be so proud of your schools, teachers and students for what they have accomplished. You will see the beginnings of the future of our country. At the State and International level the young people have achieved one step higher in accomplishment. It is inspiring to see literally thousands of great young kids all participating in good, creative projects.


State finalists enjoy Sea WorldThe State Science and Engineering Fair (SSEF) of Florida ... that is the one we attended ... is a three day display of science project exhibits prepared by aspiring scientists and engineers in grades six through twelve. Nearly a thousand finalists were present. During the event, students had the opportunity to share their ideas with one another, increase their personal development in scientific and technological areas, gain self-confidence and participate in educational field trips and tours of local areas of interest ... as well as visit Sea World and have their social blast, Social Fusion, at the Orlando Science Center.


State finalistThe State competition this year was held at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. A previous year, we had attended when it was at FAU in Boca Raton, Florida. The categories and projects can be mind-boggling. We saw projects in Behavorial and Social Sciences; Biochemistry; Botony; Chemistry; Computer Science; Earth and Space Science; Physics; Microbiology .... and the list goes on. There are separate competitions for individuals and for teams who want to work together. Have you ever looked into the eye of a 12year old and had him tell you about his project: "Interferometric Measurements Using Holography in Photorefractive Crystals"? ... and that is at the State level! Awards are given in many diverse categories consisting of ribbons, plaques, monies, books, internships and scholarships.


Science Fair BannerThis year, 1999, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) ... was held where it all began, in Philadelphia, PA., with 30 projects from 13 local and regional fairs. The first ISEF was held in 1950. This year there were over 1200 projects from 500 fairs representing countries around the globe. During the Intel ISEF, students, teachers, mentors, scientists and guest Nobel Laureates gather to exchange ideas and make new friends at the only international science and engineering competition for high school students in the world.

This fair was huge. A portion of the Philadelphia convention center was utilized to house it. For the 1200 projects they had over 900 judges with representatives not only from the United States but places like American Samoa, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Netherlands ... a total of approximately 50 countries. The participants ranged in age from 12 to 20 yrs; 51% were males, 49% females.

At this level, the awards are on a grander scale ... government, professional and educational organizations provide scholarships, internships, book and equipment grants and scientific field trips to selected finalists. The companies participating in the awards would fill the Dow Jones registry; the universities are among the most prestigious in the country.

The students come to demonstrate their expertise but really look forward to the social mixers, visiting the "special" places in the host city, and making some new, lifetime friends.

What saddens us is that these wonderful youngsters very seldom make the newspaper headlines. In fact, when we were in Orlando for the State Science & Engineering finals, the newspapers were filled with news of atrocities committed by a few disturbed youngsters ..... but there was not one word, even in the local papers, about these thousands of wonderful, bright, productive young people who will determine the future for all of us!

The Liberty BellAnd if you think these children are all books and studies you have it all wrong. Of course, in these projects, the emphasis is on science, mathematics and engineering but when the youngsters get together they are typical of all ... they share ideas, laugh, joke, have a great time partying, sight seeing and get to enjoy meeting and interacting with others from around the globe. The trip to Orlando for the State competition was filled with side excursions to local universities and Sea World. In Philadelphia the crowds of youngsters were treated to the Liberty Bell; Independence Hall and party after party, including a gala 50th anniversary party ... humongous cake and all.



The FIRST Robotics Competition really overwhelmed us. ... It may sound lofty but you have never seen so many kids have so much fun working together on a project. At FIRST they "see a world where science and technology are celebrated, where kids think that science is cool and dream of becoming science and technology heroes."

Dean KamenThe founder of FIRST, Dean Kamen, is President and owner of DEKA Research & Development, a New Hampshire based corporation specializing in advanced technologies in medical equipment as well as being Chairman and owner of Teletrol Systems, Inc., a manufacturer of electronic environmental control systems for commercial and industrial buildings. He has received several Honorary Doctorates for his accomplishments and a special award for his "innovative and imaginative leadership in awakening America to the excitement of technology and its surpassing importance in bettering the lot of mankind."

But all of that is statistics about an enthused, exciting, warm, effervescent young man who has the ability to make others see the visions that he has for the kind of future our children will have. If you hear him speak, you can feel the electricity. No wonder he has been able to gather the top people and companies in science and engineering to be part of his FIRST program.

His Board of Directors, Advisory Board, judges and contributors come from among the presidents and CEO's of the top companies in the country: Paul Allaire, Chairman & CEO of Zerox; Ralph Larsen, Chairman & CEO of Johnson & Johnson; Gary Tooker, Chairman of Motorola; Michael Bonsignore, Chairman & CEO of Honeywell; Dr. Allan Bromley, Dean of Engineering at Yale University; John Pepper, Chairman & CEO of Proctor & Gamble; Judson Green, President of Walt Disney Attractions, Inc. .... among scores of others.

The competition is demanding and awesome. Teams are put together locally ... from a small group of a few engineers and high school students to a small army of engineers, students, faculty and parents. The purpose of this team is to design and assemble and build a robot from a standard set of metal, motor and electrical raw materials. But the team consists of more than engineers and science oriented youngsters. The group effort involves such diverse aspects as financing the project, coordinating logistics, arranging press coverage for their team, documenting the impact their team has made in the community ... all aspects of a total group effort.

Teams excited at awardsOther than having high school students as the robot operators and on field players, there are no other rules that specify who else should be on a team. There is room on the team for students with many differing skills. An art student can design the team's logo; a computer whiz can develop a web page; a math student may calculate the required geometry for the robot; a vocational training student can build the robot and someone who likes to write can be the publicist and handle press relations. Monies are also a factor so many take on the task of fund raising for the team and budgeting the finances.

The competition requires an intense six week project for which industries and universities team with local high schools to design, construct and control a remotely operated vehicle for a sports based playoff whose objective changes each year.

This is a large scale engineering competition which shows youth that no other career compares to one in space and engineering. Each team starts off with the same standard kit of parts and uses their creativity to design and build a vehicle capable of performing a demanding task better than two opponents. Teams made up of high school students, industrial engineers, and, sometimes university students join together in this hands-on project to build a better robot.

We were impressed by the fact that many districts had inner city school students working with youngsters from private schools. Children who had never thought of science and college and advanced study of any kind socialized and worked with those who took higher achievement for granted. The camaraderie and team spirit of all was obvious.

Students cheer on teamsThe grandeur of the actual competition, the cheering and screaming hords of young people urging on their teams, the enthusiasm in thousands of high school students' faces .... all make this an event extra-ordinaire. Football and basketball may have their afficionados but the exuberance and exhilaration of these participants and onlookers can match the clamor displayed at any sports arena .

Each team comes armed with logos, handouts of all kinds and shapes, pins (that are readily exchanged and treasured as collector items), cheerleaders, songs, banners and anything they can dream of that will promote their group and garner more cheering throngs in the audience.

Of course there are awards given at the completion of the competition. There are plaques, scholarships, ribbons, monies, etc.... in many, many different categories....not only the one with the most points. Very important to this competition is the effect the project has on the whole local community and how the team is able to encourage others to follow studies in science and engineering.

The award we liked best was not even given by the officials of this event. While visiting with one of the teams in the pit area, we were regaled by another team coming to visit them. They had brought with them their own awards and had decided that this particular team was worthy of their special award for ... best use of materials. A beautiful plaque was presented, to the unsuspecting group .... songs were sung, hugs and handshakes exchanged by students from different parts of the country .... and then each went on with his own business for the day. The team receiving this most gracious award was new to the competition and an award from their peers was overwhelming to them. It was this fabulous spirit that we saw during the whole competition.

We do believe an event of this type, with 22,000 finalists participating ... involved in an educationally enriching, teamwork oriented project ... with both participants and onlookers hoarse from the excitement ... is one that should certainly obtain more press coverage and encouragement so that many more of us could know and understand how great the majority of our kids really are.

Students assemble robotIn 1999, we know that one of the regionals took place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the final competition was at EPCOT at Disney in Orlando, Florida. It was not even necessary to pay for entry to the park area. The group is so large that Disney had set up a portion of the EPCOT parking lot (you would never recognize it as a parking lot!) ... with two huge stadiums for the competition and an air-conditioned covered building (constructed just for this event) .... that was the size of three football fields .... that was the "pit" area for the teams. Each team had its own space where they could assemble the robot together and make repairs and adjustments before going out to the competition stages. Visitors can roam through this building and chat with the students and team leaders at some time during the competition days. The event is scheduled typically around April and hopefully will be at Disney again for the year 2000.

Check out your local schools. Many of them enter competitions of this kind each year ... they build cars; human-powered submarines; enter academic bowls; math competitions .... you name it and there is probably a competitive team or group in your area. Go see these kids doing their "thing". It will be the best traveling you will do and you will see, as we have seen, that our future, the ones that these youngsters will control, is in very good hands. Better yet, why not volunteer your services to help. They are always in need of enthusiastic adults who bring wisdom and new energies to the group.



Contact your local school
Several local schools that participated in 1999 ....

St. Andrews School .... Boca Raton
Hollywood Hills High School ...
Hollywood Mast Academy Cordis ... Miami Lakes
Miami Coral Park Senior High School ... Miami
Dillard High School ... Plantation
North Miami Beach Senior High School ... North Miami Beach
Palm Beach Gardens High School ... West Palm Beach
The Benjamin School ... West Palm Beach
North Broward Preparatory Science & Engineering Schools ... North Broward

At the State & International level ....

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science & Technology)

Sandra Darah, Coordinator
200 Bedford Street
Manchester, New Hampshire 03101
Fax: 603-666-3907


Mary Jo Koroly, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Precollegiate Education & Training
Chief Executive Officer, Florida Foundation for Future Scientists
334 Yon Hall
P.O. Box 112010
Gainesville, Florida 32611-2010
Fax: 352-392-2344

Date: May 7-13, 2000 in Detroit, Michigan.
Science Service, Inc.
Ann Korando
Director of Development & Public Relations
1719 N. Street, N.W.
Washington D.C. 20036-2888
Fax: 202-822-3932

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© 1999 Alese & Morton Pechter