It's easy to assume that technology will always march on, and that our devices will always get better, faster and cheaper. But without inventors, disruptors, scientists and engineers, our culture of creative innovation would not exist. Although STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs are growing, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be a need for approximately one million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade. In a country where many students lack the exposure to STEM education in the classroom, we must lead the next generation of great thinkers and inventors by showing them the possibilities at their fingertips.
Programs such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit organization focused on inspiring young people's interest and participation in science and technology, are vital to building future makers who will pursue opportunities in STEM fields. The various FIRST programs challenge students, from kindergarten to high school, through mentor-based research and robotics programs that help them learn to fundraise, design, develop teamwork skills, and build and program robots. FIRST is growing, and for a good reason: it started with just 28 teams, now has over 47,100 teams and more than 400,000 K-12 participants. And this week, the FIRST champions will gather for the world championship to show off their creations.
I have been involved with FIRST for over a decade, inspired to support the program after its founder Dean Kamen came to San Diego to tell us about the non-profit. After my first experience as a judge I was hooked, and now, I've experienced the competition through judging at the regional events for more than 10 years. In addition to my individual experience, as a Company, Qualcomm supports FIRST globally as a sponsor and as a strategic partner, providing employee volunteers and mentorships, as well as implementing new technologies for the competitions. This past year, Qualcomm helped FIRST transition their FIRST Tech Challenge robot control system to a user-friendly, Java-based android platform powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor from Qualcomm Technologies, adding a mobile element to the competition that will bring even more capabilities to the FIRST participants.
I started building robots at the age of six and never lost my passion for the creative power of technology. Programs like FIRST are ensuring that today's students, from any demographic, region or background, not only find that passion, but are given all they need to develop and hone their skills, without losing the key component of innovation, the spirit of invention, and fun! It's just amazing what kids can build when they are given the right support, tools and technologies. Never doubt the power of an exciting educational format for kids to learn in - one full of sounds and actions and supported by positive role models - and how that can influence young people to achieve more and learn.
The next disruption will come from generations of future inventors and technologists. STEM education, inside and outside of the classroom, is essential for innovation, and it is imperative we dedicate resources to nurture it at all levels in order to continue to advance as an industry and a society overall. We must always inspire today's children to break through the limits, push the boundaries of creativity, and hold true to the spirit of invention. Who knows, they could become the future Chief Technology Officer at Qualcomm; after all, it just takes one six year old to build a robot!