500 Youngsters and Their Robots Compete at NYU-Poly

50 Brooklyn Middle School Teams Try for Spot in FIRST LEGO League Citywide Finals; 300 New York Metro High School Students Learn Secret Challenge During NASA Broadcast

More than 500 high school and middle school students, along with their teachers, mentors, parents and cheerleading squads, will descend upon the Brooklyn campus of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) tomorrow, Saturday, January 8, for what has become an annual rite of the new year: the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics events.

About 300 high school students from 50 teams throughout the New York City area will gather in the auditorium for the international kickoff of the FIRST Robotics Competition Challenge. Via video downlink from NASA, students will discover their robotics challenge, then pick up the kits that they will use to assemble and program their robots for the New York metro area challenge.

Meanwhile, the NYU-Poly gymnasium will be packed with 500 middle school students, their parents, teachers, mentors, judges and the occasional cheerleading squad for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Brooklyn qualifying competition. Students will test the robots that they have been building and programming since September and try to impress judges with their formal presentations. Winners will proceed to the citywide competition in April.

This is the 11th year that NYU-Poly will host the FIRST robotics day. FIRST Founder Dean Kamen, the entrepreneur and inventor who created the vehicle that became the Segway PT, explains its goal: “Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication and leadership.”

This year’s event is sponsored by Time Warner Cable’s East Region/NYC, Consolidated Edison, Swiss Re and The David L. Klein, Jr. Foundation; NYU-Poly is the affiliate partner.

This year, the FLL will challenge middle school students to invent solutions to improve lives of individuals with physical limitations. Their robots will simulate bio-medical challenges as they navigate tabletop courses. For the 16 schools mentored by NYU-Poly graduate fellows, this year’s FIRST bio-medical theme provided an opportunity for fellows and the teachers they support to develop classroom lessons on the science behind each challenge, teaching about the circulatory and skeletal systems, for example.

In all, NYU-Poly supports robotics/mechatronics initiatives in 18 low-income schools as part of the Central Brooklyn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Initiative (CBSI). This program sends NYU-Poly graduate students to 18 elementary, middle and high schools to challenge young people to design, build and operate robotic devices, and to teach the science of mechatronics. Students engage in exciting hands-on learning activities. The initiative is a public-private partnership supported by The Black Male Donor Collaborative, the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Motorola Foundation, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, XEROX Foundation, NY Space Grant Consortium and Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, and the supporting graduate fellows program receives major funding from National Science Foundation’s GK-12 Fellows Program.

“Like FIRST, NYU-Poly recognizes how important it is to inspire students at a young age in the opportunities that a STEM education can provide,” said Vikram Kapila, NYU-Poly associate professor of mechanical engineering and lead of the CBSI and affiliated NSF program. “FIRST and CBSI show young students that they will be able to change the world if they pursue a rigorous technical education. We can also demonstrate to them through NYU-Poly’s traditionally high salary potential rankings that engineering careers can improve life for their families.”

In an external evaluation this spring, CBSI teachers reported dramatic changes in letter grades of participating students: 74 percent of students saw their overall grades jump one-half or one full letter grade, and 80 percent saw their science and math grades improve one-half or one full letter grade.

NYU-Poly ranks near the top of national lists by Payscale.com, U.S. News and World Report and Forbes on the salary potential of its graduates; Forbes recently named NYU-Poly among the “Colleges That Will Make You Rich” and the top colleges for women and minorities for STEM subjects.

About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 157-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi.