The Path to the Future is Paved in Multi-Colored Blocks

Nov 14, 2016 11:00 AM ET

LEGO®, those little barefoot hazards, are a powerful tool for shaping tomorrow’s engineers, scientists, programmers, and more. FIRST’s LEGO League (FLL) uses the iconic pieces of plastic to teach students in grades 4-8 how to design, build and program a robot to compete in a table-top playing field.

This year’s FLL theme is “Animal Allies SM.” The models are impossibly cute, and the project is inspiring. The more than 255,000 FLL kids have been challenged to identify a problem that arises when animals and humans are forced to interact and design a solution that makes the interaction better for animals, people, or both. FIRST has tapped expert biologists, scientists, aquariums, zoos, and universities that specialize in veterinary science and medicine to support the project and provide insight.

This kind of hands-on learning is precisely why NRG supports FIRST: this is how innovation is done in the real world – identify a problem, research, research, research, and propose a solution. What an opportunity for young people to learn these valuable skills early on, and what an opportunity for us – the employer and sponsor – to help shape brilliant young minds before they enter the workforce.

Back up, did you catch the BIG number? Yes, 255,000 kids in FLL. That’s A LOT of LEGOS®.

LEGO® makes custom kits for each challenge and all those kits need to be assembled. Assembly means gathering all of the little pieces, making sure ALL of the pieces are accounted for in an arduous QA process, packaging them up, and getting them to the teams. This is typically done by FIRST mentors and volunteers – people who already invest an incredible amount of time into the program. So, we and a few of our sponsor-friends started talking – what if we threw an assembly party? We all have operations in Houston – Houston is where the FIRST championships will be held in 2017 – and we all LOVE the program. We quickly got to work.

Nearly 400 people gathered together at NRG Park for what we’re calling the “FLL Block Party.” Collectively, we, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, Dow Chemical, Jacobs, and Rockwell Collins, along with a few FIRST team mascots, brought our employees, friends and families to celebrate the upcoming season, and lift some of the burden of kit assembly and of course, have a little fun together. Naturally, we’ve tapped into the FIRST spirit of “coopertition” to make things interesting. The day of the event, groups were organized into teams and the team to assemble the most kits – without any missing pieces – received a completely custom-made LEGO® trophy to highlight their serious building skills.

Companies don’t come together in this way every day, but FIRST has that kind of power. We believe that enriching young people’s lives through STEM education has the power to build a better tomorrow. So though we’re in different sectors and have different business priorities, this one is something we can all truly rally around. Whether you’re talking to sponsors, mentors, or the kids, everyone is passionate: you’re either all-in, or you’re out.

This Block Party is successful because of that “all-in” spirit. Each partner company brings something to the table. “Gracious professionalism” aside, I can’t hide my feelings. Booz Allen Hamilton is bringing home the trophy this year, but next year? I’m hoping it’s ours.


Jennifer leads the charitable giving program of Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy, the nation’s largest competitive electricity generation company and a leading provider of retail electric services and r...

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