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Five Thousand Attend Two-Day High School Robotics Competition In Columbia's Levien Gymnasium

By Suzanne Trimel

Real Video (0:47)

Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science hosted New York City's first-ever high school robotics contest at Levien Gymnasium March 15-17, drawing 5,000 visitors to cheer 40 teams of students who designed and built remote-controlled robots for the athletic-style contest of knowledge and strategy.

Among the enthusiastic spectators during Saturday's competition was New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, who watched as teams from every city borough, upstate, New Jersey and New England squared off during the competition.

The winning team was Rice High School in Harlem. (Results may be viewed at: http://www2.usfirst.org/2k1comp/events/nyc/teamrank.html)

Zvi Galil, Dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, left, joins inventor and FIRST founder Dean Kamen, center, and Vice Dean Morton Friedman at the start of the inaugural New York City robotics competition at Columbia on March 16. The Fu Foundation School hosted the event, sponsored by the First Foundation.

Dean Zvi Galil of the Fu Foundation School, in remarks at a reception on Friday, said the school's participation demonstrated its commitment to educational outreach in the community and highlighted its own strengths in cutting-edge technology. Galil, noting that the contest highlights both education in science and math and engineering teamwork, said the school has broadened its reach to mentor high school students in Harlem in math, science and technology, has opened its introductory electrical engineering course to high school applicants to Columbia from the Bronx High School of Science and for the second year in a row, has mentored the Morris High School robotics team for the contest.

"We are thrilled to host this event," said Galil. "This is what the Fu Foundation School of Engineering is about – community and education and cutting-edge technology."

Vice Dean Morton Friedman, who oversaw the school's invovlement in the competition, working closely with Dana Vleck, the Computer Science department's corporate outreach liaison, said: "This is exactly the kind of competition we want to be involved in."

The 2001 New York City FIRST! Regional Competition sponsored by the Goldman Sachs Foundation included teams from a broad range of academic backgrounds. The students compete alongside teachers, volunteer engineers and university partners who serve as their mentors in a raucous, highly-charged environment – complete with cheerleaders, pep bands and crowds of fans – a setting normally experienced this time of year at college basketball games. The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Foundation was founded by inventor Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Research & Development. The goal of FIRST is to interest and inspire young people to pursue further studies and careers in the areas of science and technology. Kamen, who developed the idea for the contest, was at the Columbia event for the two days.

The New York City FIRST! Competition is one of 13 regional events taking place nationwide in March, following a pattern similar to college or professional sporting tournaments. Together, the regional competitions make the National FIRST Robotics Competition the largest high school event of its kind, with over 500 teams from 44 states and Canada, Puerto Rico and Brazil competing in its tenth-anniversary season. On April 5-7, the National Championship event will draw more than 300 teams and more than 25,000 students from across the nation to Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.

The competition is a national technology design challenge met by teams of high-school students in collaboration with their professional mentors. Each year, the competition challenge, or "game," is announced in January, giving teams six weeks and a standard kit of parts and software to design, build and test the remote-controlled robots they will use to play the game. The Morris High School students worked in the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory with administrator Bob Stark and other faculty and student mentors to complete their robot. The team placed 12th in the competition among 40 teams.

"Students work side-by-side with some of the best and brightest minds in the business and engineering worlds. Imagine a local high school baseball or football team being coached by the likes of Joe Torre or Bill Parcells," says David Brown, executive director of FIRST. "Students are exposed to the wonders of technological innovation, and at the same time developing valuable decision-making and problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime."

New York City FIRST! represents a citywide collaboration among New York's business and educational communities. The program constitutes a response of New York's business community to a pressing business challenge – the escalating need for a technologically literate workforce necessary to ensure the region's future economic vitality.

Sponsored by the Goldman Sachs Foundation, New York City FIRST! receives additional support from Automatic Data Processing, Columbia, Consolidated Edison, Credit Suisse First Boston Foundation Trust, J.P. Morgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, KeySpan Energy, Polytechnic University, Securities Industry Automation Corporation (SIAC) and Verizon.

Published: Mar 15, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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