FIRST: the First Step in Expanding STEM for Students Around the Globe

Aug 12, 2020 12:00 PM ET

Our ongoing collaboration with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is another important way that we’re increasing access to STEM education and giving today’s students the foundation they need to invent the future.

FIRST is the world's leading youth-serving not for profit organization advancing STEM education. FIRST engages students in grades K-12 in mentor-based robotics programs that help them become science and technology leaders as well as well-rounded contributors to society.

We’ve been collaborating with FIRST since 2006. Our involvement as a FIRST Strategic Partner has focused on

  • supporting students in all four FIRST programs, including:
    • FIRST Lego League Jr. for students in grades K-4;
    • FIRST Lego League for students in grades 4-8;
    • FIRST Tech Challenge for students in grades 7-12; and
    • FIRST Robotics Competition for students in grades 9-12.
  • providing cutting-edge technology and expertise for the FIRST Tech Challenge control system; and
  • helping to grow FIRST programs in global communities where access to STEM programs are either limited or don’t exist.

Annually, we make a significant contribution of volunteers to FIRST. In 2019, we achieved a dramatic rise in the number of our employees volunteering with FIRST and in the number of students being introduced to our technology.

For the 2018-2019 FIRST season:

  • 259 Qualcomm employees in nine countries volunteered 12,361 hours to support FIRST participants as mentors, volunteers and judges.
  • 68,180 students used the FIRST Tech Challenge control system which features the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 3 mobile technology platform. All told, we’ve introduced our technology to nearly 228,000 students in 27 countries since the 2015-2016 season when we first integrated our technology into the controller.

STEM Community Partnerships in Action

To celebrate National Robotics Week and to support students and teachers across the United States, we teamed up with Bosch USA, a FIRST Strategic Partner and a Qualcomm customer, on a campaign to fund every FIRST project on the Donor’s Choose platform.

Together, we fully funded 120 projects supported by 90 teachers at 88 schools in 25 states. Sixty-six percent of schools that received the funding have a majority of students from low-income households.

Donor’s Choose is a fundraising platform that allows teachers to raise money for their classrooms. Funding needs range from basic supplies to art equipment to STEM projects. Our funding helped in a variety of ways, such as:

  • providing tools and supplies for schools to start a FIRST Lego League Club;
  • helping teachers gain access to FIRST robotics materials that will allow their students to gain knowledge in engineering and inspire them in that direction; and
  • providing materials and supplies to teach STEM through robotics to underserved students.

In China, we collaborated with the Xiaomi Corporation on a social responsibility program that supported people with disabilities. This program, in partnership with the Shanghai Youren Foundation, provided job training in data tagging to people with disabilities for one of Xiaomi’s Artificial Intelligence Programs. As a result, these program participants now have new and relevant technical job skills that will empower them for years to come.

Shanghai Adream Charitable Foundation is a China grassroots NGO that helps children grow up with confidence, poise and dignity. With Qualcomm’s support, a 16-lesson STEM curriculum was developed and deployed online for primary and junior high schools to use. Through this STEM curriculum, students learn basic programming and strengthen their collaboration and creativity skills. So far, 5,200+ students from 130 schools in underprivileged areas and communities have participated in this STEM curriculum.

The goal of the Tijuana Robotics Showcase in Tijuana, Mexico, is to engage students in this vulnerable community and get them excited about STEM through FIRST. 2019 marked our second consecutive year supporting the Showcase, ensuring that students from the region have access to the FIRST program and the skills and opportunity that it brings. The event featured more than a dozen robotics workshops that inspired students from kindergarten to university to pursue STEM and envision a future in which they could achieve anything they set their minds to.

Our support of the Showcase contributed to an unprecedented level of interest and accessibility to STEM in the region. The Showcase drew more than 1,000 attendees. Its impact spread across hundreds of young and curious minds, aspiring scientists and engineers and socioeconomic leaders and companies.

n San Diego, our Company sponsored the San Diego STEAM Maker Festival. The annual STEM + Arts event unites more than 6,000 attendees, including sponsors, foundations, schools, parents, students and community partners — all from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds — for a culminating hands-‐on STEAM festival. All proceeds and funds raised through sponsorship go directly to allowing STEAM Maker to provide free STEAM events, programs and activities to San Diego County schools throughout the school year.

One of the challenges that students can participate in at the festival is the “Qualcomm Social Innovation Challenge.” Each school team had a month and a half to come up with an idea as to how they would spend $500 to help their community. The students had many great ideas, such as:

  • creating awareness around the negative impacts of bullying by hiring a speaker to come to their school and talk to students about this issue;
  • designing and selling T-shirts as a fundraiser so that the students could use their profits to buy warm sweaters for homeless people; and
  • construction of a “Book Hut” outside a children’s shelter to provide those children with access to free books.

Our employees helped judge the competition. The winning idea came from an all-girls team that wanted to help the environment and reduce waste in their school by purchasing four recycling bins to supplement the trash-only cans in their school’s lunch area.

Qualcomm® Aqriti™ Program

Qualcomm India, in association with United Way of Hyderabad and Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, recently launched a flagship project — Aqriti — promoting STEM education among underprivileged girls. The initiative aims to provide increased access to STEM education and to address community perceptions on gender equality through various outreach programs. Through this collaboration, Qualcomm is helping to build facilities that enable a quality education for girls in schools.

Engagement pillars of the Aqriti program include:

  • providing STEM labs and learning tools to help students strengthen concepts in science and mathematics;
  • providing technical mentorship and allied activities such as special coaching, soft skills training and exposure visits;
  • community engagement to create awareness on girl child education; and
  • providing scholarships for top-performing girls pursuing STEM streams in higher education.

After its initial year, Aqriti reached out to 25,000+ children (our estimate is that approximately 40 percent of these are girls), 130+ schools across Hyderabad and Bangalore; 500+ teachers trained; 2,000+ numeracy and science kits distributed.

Now in its second year, the program is expanding to new areas across India, including:

  • Mumbai: Launched program in 15 schools, reaching out to 2,500 students;
  • Chennai: Launched program in 10 schools, reaching out to 3,000 students;
  • Hyderabad: Expanded to 44 new schools in FY19; and
  • Karnataka Expansion in partnership with SVYM: Total coverage to increase to 55 schools.

The program operates in 250+ schools across India, reaching out to over 40,000 school children.