By: Chris Warren
Here at Twenty First Summer I love to opine about life and society and philosophy and other liberal-artsy type stuff, but in the real world I am a communications electronics technician who services the equipment that makes the bars on your cellphone light up and the internet connect and the TV stream. It all sounds so modern and impressive. It’s not, actually. What I do is fairly average stuff by technogeek standards. The guys & girls who deserve admiration for their technical skills are the young scientists and engineers from Cleveland, Ohio known as Team 120.
Team 120 is a crew of high school students from the Cleveland public schools enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program run out of a local community college. Anyone with internet access knows that STEM education in the United States is trending in the wrong direction; what Team 120 is doing is vital to reversing the decline.
What pushed Team 120 to the top was their spectacular championship win at the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition in St. Louis, Missouri last April. The FIRST competition is no run of the mill science fair. It’s a very serious, high pressure event that attracts competitors from all over the world and has big name corporate sponsors such as IBM and Boeing. Just making it to FIRST is a difficult and impressive accomplishment.
Students participating in FIRST have to build and program robots, then run the robots through a series of complicated tasks in competition against all the other robots. Far more valuable than prizes or glory is the real-world experience the students will use to pursue what is sure to be successful STEM careers. This year the competition attracted 20,000 of the very best students, formed into 900 teams from 39 nations. Team 120 beat every single one of them and came home to Cleveland with the big prize and the big pride.
The importance of what these teens are doing and the spirit they inspire in others cannot be overstated. Someone is going to be the bridge to the future and invent the next era of complex machines that make civilization hum along, and Team 120 is leading the way. There are other bright kids out there tinkering in their bedrooms and basements who need that one little push. What better than someone in their own age group, a peer, to be that push and show them how far one can go when they truly want it bad enough? Team 120 is already bearing a torch for the next generation and they are still kids themselves!
Equal to the remarkable technical accomplishments of Team 120 is the image they project to other kids. Teens are all about being popular and trendy; math & science does not rank too high on the cool-o-meter, at least it didn’t until now. Robots, computers, and some high profile competition give STEM a new coat of paint and may be just what is needed to attract others.
There is no way to know for sure what the next step will be for the members of Team 120, but I have a lot of confidence that they still have many great ideas to release on the world. The FIRST competition was only one weekend and a small sample of what they are capable of doing. We, everyone, need these kids very badly. When they are given a chance and strong leadership, kids become champions and leaders themselves. I am absolutely certain that in the not-too-distant future something a member of Team 120 invented will be making my life better. These young scientists don’t just have the golden ticket to a better tomorrow, they are the golden ticket to a better tomorrow…and what a great blessing it is that we all get to ride along.