Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Invest in the Future: Become a Mentor for STEM Student Competitions

Getting involved with student competitions is a powerful way to give back to the community and show kids the path to a career in science and engineering. Fuentek has been heavily involved in both the NASA TechRise Student Challenge and FIRST Inspires robotics events, and we have seen the positive results firsthand. For more information on these competitions, check out our post on the value of student competitions.

Here, I’ll discuss how you can get involved with these two competitions and the value that comes with doing so. In particular, mentorship is essential to promoting Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) and reducing barriers for underrepresented groups engaging in STEM education. Encouraging future innovators means investing in the U.S. economy (plus it’s fun and fulfilling!).

NASA TechRise Student Challenge

NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge gives students hands-on experience with the design and test process used by NASA-supported researchers. This year’s challenge invites teams of students in grades 6-12 to design, build, and launch experiments on high-altitude balloon flights. The program gives teams the opportunity to learn from technical advisors, developing skills and experience needed to turn their experiment ideas into reality.

Fuentek has had direct experience with the powerful impact such a program can make in students’ lives through our work with this challenge. Our team supports several aspects of TechRise, including broad public outreach that emphasizes geographic representation as well as challenge logistics and strategy.

Getting Involved with TechRise

You can learn more about the challenge by going to the NASA TechRise Student Challenge website. U.S. residents with expertise in engineering, space, and/or atmospheric research can volunteer to judge student submissions by filling out this form on the TechRise website.

To help us spread the word about TechRise to a community or audience you think should know about it, fill out our contact form and we’ll supply outreach materials. The deadline to apply is October 24.

FIRST Inspires

I’ve always looked for ways to give back and help girls and minorities in STEM, and FIRST is incredibly well run and impactful, so it’s a great way to donate my time and know that I’m making a difference.

FIRST North Carolina is a not-for-profit that runs the NC competitions. I was one of the founding members of the FIRST NC Steering Committee and during its beginnings as a not-for-profit organization. The program is composed of divisional competitions and a state championship with a board of directors to help run them. I’m the co-chair on the board right now; this is my second time serving on the board, and I’ve been a judge with FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for the past 15 years.

I’m consistently impressed by the ways kids learn real-life skills, solve a real-world problem, and embody those skills and qualities central to the FIRST program. These kids are learning so much: from STEM to marketing and business plan writing to social engineering skills. Often, they are learning without even realizing it!

Getting Involved with FIRST

Programs like FIRST give kids the skills they need to succeed in STEM careers. Corporations that sponsor FIRST are aware of this and want to hire FIRST kids. As such, competitions like FIRST help build a stronger workforce. The NASA Robotics Alliance Project provides grants to high school teams competing in FRC and sponsors FIRST regional competitions. Schools, just like corporations, recognize the value that comes with doing FIRST. In addition to offering scholarships specific to FIRST students, many schools throughout the U.S. favorably consider FIRST students in the admissions process.

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact your regional organization to see what roles are needed. FIRST is always in need of engineers and scientists who can serve as judges. This is where the concept of “see one be one” plays a crucial role in promoting EDI and encouraging underrepresented groups in STEM education. If a kid sees someone who looks like them who is an engineer, they are more likely to believe that they too could be an engineer. Programs like FIRST show kids what is possible. Here is more information on volunteer opportunities at FIRST.

Investing in Future Leaders and Innovators

Getting involved in programs like FIRST and NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge is a significant and rewarding way to get kids involved in STEM, igniting a life-long passion for science and engineering that translates directly to empowering future U.S. leaders and innovators.

*The FIRST images above are from the FIRST Tech Challenge – 2022 FIRST Championship.