For several years, Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS) employees have been involved in FIRST (For Inspiration of Science and Technology) as competition judges, mentors and team coaches.
“CNS depends heavily on attracting and retaining highly talented STEM educated people,” said Mark Cook, a CNS engineer and local team mentor. “There is a gap between the workforce demand in STEM careers and those pursuing education in those fields. This isn’t just about competing with other corporations, but, fundamentally, we have to reach down and encourage students’ interest to pursue these careers. One advantage of FIRST is that it rewards and recognizes robotic students for pursuing their development just as they see their peers recognized in athletics.”
FIRST learning never stops building upon itself; it starts at age 6 and continues into high school. The FIRST organization’s 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 selfconfidence, communication, and leadership.”
This year’s FIRST competition challenge, “Stronghold,” was to penetrate their opponents’ fortress, weaken their defenses with boulders and capture the opposing tower. To accomplish the task, teams worked with hundreds of components from programmable radio controllers, motors and electrical circuitry to mechanical parts. Each two-and-a-half-minute match began with a 15-second autonomous period in which the robots independently implemented codes from their student programmers. During the remainder of the match, student drivers manned the robots.
CNS was a Friends of the Future sponsor to the Smoky Mountains Regional with a $5,000 donation. Individual high schools teams from Austin–East, Bearden, Farragut, Hardin Valley, L & N STEM, Oak Ridge and Roane County also were supported by CNS. Hardin Valley Academy’s RoHAWKtics team was part of a three -team alliance that took home top honors in Smoky Mountain Regionals. Hardin Valley Academy also received the FIRST Excellence in Engineering Award. Oak Ridge High School’s Secret City Wildbots, received the Gracious Professional Award and the Volunteer of the Year Award. Four teams from east Tennessee qualified for the world competition in St. Louis, including Roane County High School, Oak Ridge High School, Halls High School and Hardin Valley Academy.
“FIRST helps students develop tools they need to be successful adults in any workplace—working with teams, gracious professionalism, communication, mentoring kids, and discipline,” adds Mark Cook. “This competition is expensive, and teams rely on both the financial support of sponsors like CNS as well as professional mentors involved in these fields.”