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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Robotics competition not just about robots

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When Gov. Linda Lingle unveiled her new Innovation Initiative back in January, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math skills in Hawai'i students, it all sounded very, well, innovative. It was the kind of jump-start our state needed to keep our youth competitive in a diverse economy not just on the Mainland, but here at home.

But let's face it, when the governor talked of bringing a regional robotics competition to the state next year, you had to wonder how such an event fit in with those goals. Sure, it sounded fun, but would it attract and affect only youth who were already excelling, while leaving those who actually needed the extra help behind?

At a recent editorial board meeting, Dean Kamen, who created the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition, made one thing abundantly clear: It's about more than just robots.

In fact, an independent study by Brandeis University found that participants were three times as likely to major in engineering, twice as likely to pursue a career in science and technology, and nearly four times as likely to pursue a career in engineering.

The study also found the competitions taught better communication and teamwork skills, while building confidence. This was especially true with low-income and minority youth.

Indeed, these events are about more than robots. They're about giving students the tools they need to face an evolving economic future. They help ensure a level playing field when it comes to women, minorities and lower-income youth. And they keep youth not only interested, but passionate about areas of study that have long been thought of as "geeky."

That's not just fun, it's crucial to our state's economy and our children's future.