AMES, Iowa – The two co-chairs of this year’s Iowa FIRST LEGO League Championship know about the power of an academic competition to influence students.
Emily Hurban, an Iowa State senior from Cedar Falls, remembers seeing her first high school robotics competition: “I was excited about how cool it was.” She joined her school’s team, learned some lessons in problem-solving and design, and is now studying food science and biological systems engineering.
Chris Guetzlaff, an Iowa State senior from Waterloo, remembers his four years of high school robotics competition as a great introduction to engineering. It convinced him to combine his lifelong interest in veterinary medicine with mechanical engineering studies. His goal is to eventually engineer veterinary equipment.
The co-chairs are sure the annual Iowa FIRST LEGO League Championship at Iowa State’s College of Engineering will have similar impacts on some of the hundreds of students who have been working for months to perfect their LEGO robots and research presentations.
The championship features 72 teams of 9- to 14-year-olds who qualified in regional competitions all over the state. The championship runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, in Howe and Hoover halls on the west side of campus. The event is free and open to the public.
If you attend, prepare for screaming cheers, crazy hats and colorful team T-shirts. And prepare to be impressed at the intensity as students place their rolling LEGO robots on the competition table and try to complete a series of missions based on this year’s theme of “World Class: Learning Unleashed.”
In addition to the robot competition, students have to prepare a project that presents an innovative solution to a learning challenge.
All the while, they’re expected to demonstrate “gracious professionalism” by competing against problems while treating teammates and competitors with kindness and respect.
Iowa State’s championship co-chairs are confident all that will make an impression on the younger students.
“This offers them hands-on knowledge about problem-solving and how to build something – and change something they’ve built – to meet a challenge,” Hurban said.
“The best thing they can get out of the championship is problem-solving and teamwork,” Guetzlaff said. “When they get to their work careers they’ll know how to treat people who have different views with respect so they can all do a better job.”
Iowa State's College of Engineering has directed and sponsored the state championship for 13 years as part of its outreach efforts. The championship is also sponsored by Rockwell Collins and John Deere.
FIRST LEGO League is the creation of FIRST, a nonprofit organization based in New Hampshire dedicated to inspiring young people to explore science and technology, and the LEGO Group, the Denmark-based toy manufacturer.