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05/16/2004: "A Letter to the Editor"

mood: Decent

In response to the Tuesday, May 11th article entitled, "In science and math, our kids need to step it up."

It comes as no surprise to me that Washington State lags behind other comparable states in producing a high number of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. However, these facts, exposed in Tuesday's article, surprise most people, because everyone thinks of Boeing and Microsoft when they think of Washington companies - two worldwide engineering and technology powerhouses. Furthermore, there are many other technology and engineering companies throughout the state. It would seem then, that students of these fields would find a great amount of encouragement and support throughout high school and college. However, as the founder of a high school robotics club, my experience has been the antithesis of this: Washington State companies largely ignore fledgling engineers and the groups that cater to them.

For evidence, we need not look any further than our largest educational institution, the University of Washington. In 2002 and 2003, the U.W. hosted the Pacific Northwest Regional for the FIRST Robotics Competition. These two years, the competition was largely funded by out-of-state corporations and organizations, with the hope that local companies would see the enormous potential of the event to promote science and technology in Washington State and begin funding the event themselves. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of hundreds of aspiring engineers in high schools throughout the Puget Sound region, this hope was never realized. This year, the Pacific Northwest Regional of this renowned national robotics competition moved to Portland, Oregon, where more corporate support was found.

Unlike Washington, Oregon is not thought of as an engineering or technology powerhouse – yet Oregon is setting itself up to usurp Washington’s position as a leader in technology because its corporations understand that in order to graduate engineers from universities, students must first be interested in careers in engineering. Organizations that reach students in middle school and high school are the best way to develop young people into aspiring engineers. FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) and its annual national Robotics Competition, have proven in many other states to be the best method available of promoting science and technology in secondary education. Until Washington corporations step up to the plate and begin to support events like this competition and the high school teams that participate in it, they can expect that Washington will continue to lag behind in the production of the Engineers and the leaders in technology that will enable Washington to remain a world leader in technological innovation.

Programs like the FIRST robotics competition may not be the “Silver Bullet” that fixes all of Washington’s engineering education woes, but I believe it is the closest thing that anyone will find.

Sincerely,

Ryan McElroy

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have concerning information in this letter.

For more information on the FIRST Robotics Competition: http://www.usfirst.org or http://www.usfirst.org/about/2003/annualreport2003.pdf

For more information on a very deserving yet under-funded robotics club, visit http://www.titanrobotics.net

Washington State teams involved in this competition include: Roosevelt High School’s “SWAT Robotics,” Newport High School’s “NRG” (Newport Robotics Group), Eastlake High Schools “Screws Loose” (Second place at the Pacific Northwest Regional!), Issaquah High School Robotics, Bellevue High School Robotics, Nathan Hale High School Robotics, and the 2004 Pacfic Northwest Regional #1 seeded champions, The Bellevue International School’s “Titan Robotics Club.”



P.S.

Washington’s largest newspaper, the Seattle Times, must share in the blame for the Pacific Northwest regional being moved from Seattle – In the two years when the competition was in Seattle, the Times provided no more coverage than a picture and a paragraph of text. Each of those two years, Seattle-area teams came in second place and received no recognition. For example, in 2003, a well-funded team from Florida competed at the Pacific Northwest Regional and took first place. The Seattle Time’s coverage of the event consisted of two pictures of the winning team and a short blurb about how the team from Florida won the regional. There was no mention of the 12 Washington teams competing or the work they did to help put on the regional. Needless to say, people like me and other mentors of these robotics clubs who put in much of their time and energy to promote the good cause of science and technology in our public schools felt slighted at the gross omission of our cause. Many of us also feel that this lack of publicity helped ensure that no local corporations would step up and ensure that FIRST Robotics stayed in Washington. I would like to personally thank the Seattle P-I for its coverage of the robotics team I work with in 2003 and for its Tuesday article highlighting the issues facing Washington’s Tech companies.



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