Connector Suppliers Support Students at FIRST Robotics Competitions

By AJ Born | May 03, 2022

The next generation of electronics professionals learn about components and robotic systems while having fun in competition.

The innovation that drives technology is itself driven, at least in part, by the new ideas and perspectives that come with fresh eyes and open minds. Attracting students to the industry from an early age, therefore, is vital for ensuring ongoing technological innovation. Since 1992, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has been inspiring young people around the world, through fun and challenging competitions, to learn about and engage in the skills they will need in the future to tackle the world’s problems. The program touches on many aspects of technology, and connector suppliers have been among the tech companies that recognize its value and participate through sponsorship, mentorship, and product donation. Companies like Digi-Key Electronics, Molex, Mouser Electronics, and TE Connectivity have proudly supported this endeavor.  

Connector Supplier asked TE Connectivity about its nearly 20-year involvement with FIRST. 

TE Booth

Student engineers with Elmira, Canada’s FIRST team ready their robot for competition.

What is new and exciting about this year’s competition, particularly with regards to the connector industry? 

According to our on-site experts, this year’s competition looks like it takes the need for accuracy and precision up a notch. With a field that includes soccer balls, uneven parallel bars, and hoops, these robots undergo quite a test.  

For example, parts of the competition require robots weighing more than 120 pounds to hang from bars like gymnasts. This setup makes it really important for the connectors to be reliable and durable so that they will be able to make it through the event without any human intervention. 

What are the biggest challenges the students face?  

Details for each competition are kept under wraps until the beginning of the competitive cycle. While these unknown and dynamic circumstances can be challenging, they also help students to think on their feet, become more flexible and adaptable, and grow by presenting them with new challenges of varying complexity each year.  

Nicholas Weddington, product development/research and development engineer; Erika Cherry, senior manager, engineering; and Jaren Tucker, inclusion and diversity program specialist

TE Team of FIRST volunteers (l. to r.) Nicholas Weddington, product development/research and development engineer; Erika Cherry, senior manager, engineering; and Jaren Tucker, inclusion and diversity program specialist

Who from TE is involved this year? 

This year, TE has funded more than 90 teams, and many of them have TE mentors. The mentors from TE spend countless hours sharing their knowledge and expertise with these teams on nights and weekends to help instill a passion for engineering in our youth. We are very proud of our FIRST volunteers and the positive impact they have on these students. Several of these mentors will be onsite at the championships. 

In addition to the TE engineering mentors involved in the competition, two TE senior leaders are excited to attend the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston this year. Reggie Lai, TE’s vice president of global government affairs and corporate responsibility and Pape Ndaw, senior vice president and general manager of automotive for TE’s Americas region are touring the FIRST competition floor witnessing the impact of our investment. 

What do you see as the benefits of the FIRST programs? 

TE is deeply committed to STEM education, and programs like FIRST ensure a robust and diverse talent pipeline for companies like ours. [TE’s efforts to shape the industrial technology workforce of the future are outlined on pages 26 and 27 of TE’s Corporate Responsibility Report.]   

How specifically is TE involved with FIRST? 

TE has committed funding, time, talent, and other resources for more than 90 teams for this year’s competition. This brings TE’s total investment in FIRST to approximately $2 million over the past five years.  

We have also supported the regional competitions in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and California, reflecting our presence in these regions. TE also sponsored the Innovation Faire portion of the 2022 World Championships in Houston. There, TE will have a booth showcasing a sensors activity, which will be staffed by TE employee volunteers to educate FIRST students and attendees about TE.  

In addition to the competition, TE has offered a FIRST scholarship program since 2017. This program provides scholarships to FIRST students pursuing STEM disciplines. This year, four awards of $2,500 each will be granted to students planning to attend an accredited four-year college or university. Up to ten awards of $1,000 each will be granted to students planning to attend a technical school, vocational school, or community college.  

What materials does TE provide?  

TE provides FIRST Robotics teams with access to our sample program and kit of parts, which are widely used by all participants in the competition — even if they are not directly sponsored by TE. 


Nicholas Weddington

Nicholas Weddington

Does TE work with the students beyond the competition?  

TE’s aim is to build lasting relationships with FIRST program participants. In fact, Nicholas Weddington, currently an engineer in our rotational program, is an alumnus of the FIRST program. He fondly recalls seeing TE at the Innovation Faire when he was a participant. Now this young man from a small town in Georgia is working for the global industrial technology leader, representing TE at our FIRST Robotics Innovation Faire booth this year.  

To learn more about the companies mentioned in this article, visit the Preferred Supplier pages for Digi-Key Electronics, Molex, Mouser Electronics, and TE Connectivity. 

Like this article? Check out our other robotics articles, our Consumer Connector Market Page, and our 2022 Article Archive

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AJ Born
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