by Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
12/2/2014 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- For
many years Scott Air Force Base has been supporting local programs that
encourage innovation, enabling young people to be science and
One of those programs, the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science
and Technology (FIRST) Lego League, held its first qualifying
competition of the year for 4th-8th grades on Nov. 22. This is one of 22
FIRST qualifying competitions that will take place in Southwest
Illinois for the 2014-2015 school year.
The FIRST Lego League competition was held in 1989 and engages children
in mentor-based programs to build science, technology, engineering,
mathematics and life skills.
"What we are trying to do here at Air Mobility Command is spark the
interest of the next generation of scientists and engineers," said Dr.
Don Erbschloe, Air Mobility Command Chief Scientist. "That's what the
STEM program is all about and why we take an invested interest. In
addition to competing with this robot, they [children] learn
communication skills. They have to explain what they are trying to
accomplish and their process to how they got it to work. They all have
different roles to play."
For the competition, teams build a robot out of Legos and electric
mechanisms and program it to work. While building the robot, teams also
conduct a research study. Teams and their mentor plan for the
competition months ahead of time.
About two months prior to the qualifying competition date, the team
finds out the robot's mission and has to work together to strategize a
plan to gain the most points during the mission. Each action, such as
moving a ball, is worth points. Teams can earn points during other
portions of the competition as well.
Every year, there is a different challenge theme given to competitors.
In past years, the challenges were topics like climate and
transportation. This year it is education.
With the theme in mind, each team has to explain to judges their team's
core values, research project, and robot design. It is through this
portion that they learn self-confidence, communication, and leadership
Carla Thorton, Defense Information Systems Agency Engineer, has served as a mentor for 10 teams.
"I help with anything I can, from programming the robot to creating
skits," she said. "If I can't help I find someone who can. Anyone can be
Overall, the program emphasizes gracious professionalism. While teams
are competing against each other for points, they get high marks for
working together cooperatively, and good sportsmanship.
"Seeing what the children are capable of delivering during this
competition is amazing and infectious," said Mike Harvey, Southwest
Illinois FIRST Lego League qualifying tournament coordinator. "Children
see things through a different lens. They have no box or boundaries in
terms of possibilities. In this competition, we provide the structure
and they inject the innovation."
The three winning teams of the 22 Southwest Illinois qualifying
competitions will compete in three regional competitions. If they win at
the regional competitions, they would progress to the state level. The
state winners go to the world level, which is held in St. Louis.
More than 900 scholarship opportunities amounting to over $20 million
are available for 2014 through the FIRST program. For more information
and to locate STEM volunteer opportunities visit http://www3.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/fll.