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Rockwell Collins commits $1.3 million to FIRST programs for young people


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa. - In an effort to bolster student interest in science, technology, math and engineering, Rockwell Collins is teaming with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to dramatically increase FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge teams throughout Iowa and across the nation. Rockwell Collins will contribute $1.3 million over the first two years to launch the program, building the ongoing commitment to FIRST to $1 million annually.

Rockwell Collins Chairman, President and CEO Clay Jones and FIRST founder Dean Kamen made the announcement Friday at a news conference following Rockwell Collins’ annual K-12 Partnership Kickoff Breakfast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“The United States has fallen behind the rest of the world when inspiring our young people to become technologically proficient,” said Jones. “We’re confident that by teaming with FIRST, we can make a significant impact on young people. By motivating our students to take an interest in programs that put science and math to work, we can help regain our competitive edge.”

“Rockwell Collins is a model for corporate involvement in creating the workforce of tomorrow,” said Kamen. “Rockwell Collins recognizes the value and power that FIRST has in inspiring students to pursue science and technology careers. With this significant increase in support of FIRST programs, the company is taking a leadership role in the education of the next generation of innovators.”

Based on research conducted by Brandeis University, FIRST participants are twice as likely to attend college, three times as likely to major specifically in engineering, and nine times as likely to have an internship with a company while in college. For women and minorities, the results are equally dramatic. Young women are four times more likely to go on to studies in science and engineering, while minority members of FIRST teams are more than twice as likely to enter these fields.

Rockwell Collins’ initial investment is aimed at creating 100 FIRST LEGO League teams in Iowa and 60 teams near Rockwell Collins’ locations throughout the country. In addition to financial support, Rockwell Collins employees will be active volunteers in the program, and teachers serving as team coaches will receive financial support.

FIRST created the FIRST LEGO League to encourage 9 to 14 year-olds to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts through an annual real-world Challenge, which engages them in authentic scientific research and hands-on robotics design. Teams of up to 10 players compete in sports-like atmosphere with a focus on team building, problem solving, creativity and analytical thinking.

Rockwell Collins and FIRST are also teaming up to support FIRST’s newest high school robotics program, FIRST Tech Challenge. This program expansion will allow high school students to grow their interest in science and technology as they get older. Rockwell Collins will initially establish 100 FIRST Tech Challenge teams in Iowa high schools with the goal of making the program available to all 358 high schools in the state by 2010.

“The high school programs will provide a continuum for students to sharpen their skills as they prepare for college,” said Jones. “We envision LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge as a feeder program that will help fill the pipeline for technology professionals for years to come.”

Jones says the FIRST and Rockwell Collins’ Engineering Experiences programs are taking learning out of the textbooks and into the hands of students, providing experiences young people need to be involved with if the U.S. is going to compete in a global marketplace. Rockwell Collins’ Engineering Experiences, in which FIRST is a major component, is the umbrella program for a multitude of opportunities for students to work hands-on with real world applications of math and science.

Regarding the need to bolster STEM education in the U.S., Jones cited an alarming report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” by the National Academy of Sciences, which presents evidence that math and science must become a priority in our schools. For example, China, India and countries that were part of the Soviet Union are aggressively preparing their students with the technology skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce. Most of those countries have the competitive advantage of a low wage structure.


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