Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

The Value of Student Competitions to Promote STEM Education and Careers

Student competitions are a great way for students to get involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), igniting an interest in science and engineering and developing the foundational skills needed for their careers. Competitions such as NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge and FIRST Inspires provide students with a fun and engaging way to learn STEM skills, cultivating the next leaders of the U.S. science and technology community.

Fuentek supports and is heavily involved with both NASA TechRise and FIRST, as we want to help expand STEM access and establish a strong future science and technology workforce. These programs not only instill a passion for science and technology at an early age, but they also teach kids the skills needed to succeed in any career. In today’s post, we offer information about these programs and how you can get involved.

NASA TechRise Student Challenge

Led by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and administered by Future Engineers, NASA’s TechRise Student Challenge gives students hands-on experience with the design and test process used by NASA-supported researchers. This year’s program invites teams of students in grades 6-12 to design, build, and launch science and technology experiments on high-altitude balloon flights.

Public, private, and charter school students in all U.S. states and territories are encouraged to form a team, brainstorm an experiment, and submit a TechRise proposal on or before October 24, 2022. A total of 60 winning teams will then be selected and will receive a prize package of $1,500 to build their experiment, a flight box in which to build it, and an assigned spot on a NASA-sponsored high-altitude balloon flight. Over the approximately four-month experiment build phase, winning teams will receive support from Future Engineers advisors, helping students develop the skills they need to turn their ideas into reality.

Flight tests will offer more than 4 hours of flight time at approximately 70,000 feet, providing exposure to Earth’s atmosphere and incredible views of our planet. This competition inspires a deeper understanding of Earth’s atmosphere, surface features, and climate; space exploration; coding; electronics; and the value of test data.

How To Get Involved With TechRise

Visit the TechRise site for more information on how students and educators can enter the challenge, and also learn how science and technology professionals can volunteer to judge. On October 14, 2022, the NASA TechRise Student Challenge Proposal Q&A Webinar offered educators and students an opportunity to ask questions prior to submitting their entries (watch for a transcript of the event).

FIRST Inspires

As the world’s leading youth-serving nonprofit advancing STEM education, FIRST inspires kids to become science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs that build skills, inspire innovation, and instill self-confidence, communication, and leadership​.

Hands-on STEM learning programs are available to kids of all ages. FIRST LEGO League (FLL) offers programs for kids from preK to grade 8 to use LEGOS to solve a problem through a guided, global robotics program. FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) gives students in grades 7-12 the opportunity to think like engineers by designing, building, and programming robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) provides high-school age students with the opportunity to form teams to design, program, and build a robot using a standard build kit in a themed head-to-head challenge.

FRC was created with the idea of forming a competition that’s as accepted and celebrated as a varsity sport. Each region runs their local program and winners compete in the international competition. FRC challenges students to understand what real-world engineering looks like: they have a problem to solve, their team, and a deadline.

FRC promotes the core values of FIRST: coopetition, the concept of cooperating and competing at the same time, and gracious professionalism, the concept of helping other teams with their robots. Through the structure of the challenge, students are incentivized to help other teams because they are judged not just on how their robots perform but on how well they demonstrate the core values of FIRST. The whole game is structured to excite kids about engineering and science without them realizing that’s what’s happening because they are having so much fun. The result is that kids learn physics, programming, geometry, and so much more within the context of a game.

How to Get Involved with FIRST

To get involved with FIRST, find a team near you or start a team. For those interested in joining the community to volunteer or participate, you can find your local organization. FIRST is always in need of volunteers and offers information on ways to do so.

Getting involved with STEM student competitions is a powerful way to give back to your community and show kids the path to a career in science and engineering. In a follow-up post, I’ll discuss more specific ways to get involved and the many benefits of mentoring STEM competitions.

*Image above is a scene from the FIRST Robotics Competition – 2022 FIRST Championship.