Support will help local Columbia students prepare for FIRST Regional Competition

By Dr. Martin Cwiakala, Special to the Sword and Shield 

FIRST® team # 1398 at…Keenan…is one of 900 high school teams being sponsored this year by JCPenney. FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a not-for-profit organization founded by Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology by engaging students in innovative robotics competitions. The Robo-Raiders are a nine-year veteran team that will spend six intense weeks designing and building an original robot for the FIRST Regional Competition scheduled for the Palmetto Regional on March 22-24, 2012, in North Charleston.

“Having our students involved in FIRST is not just about increasing educational opportunities in science and technology but instilling well-rounded life capabilities such as self-confidence, communication and leadership.  JCPenney’s sponsorship represents a commitment to building the future leaders of tomorrow by making youth participation in FIRST possible,” Dr. Martin Cwiakala, Lead Mentor and Engineering Teacher at Keenan, said.

JCPenney’s sponsorship of 900 FIRST teams this season reinforces the company’s philanthropic goal to introduce FIRST to more schools and communities throughout the U.S. and encourage greater participation among minority and female students. JCPenney’s legacy of working with national youth organizations through its signature charity, JCPenney Afterschool, helps make it possible for more students to become involved in life-enriching learning opportunities during the after school hours.

Schools, communities and government[s] acknowledge the need to improve the country’s global economic competitiveness by increasing aptitudes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among America’s youth. Studies show that FIRST students are 3 times more likely to major in engineering in college, 10 times as likely to have an apprenticeship their freshman years, more than twice as likely to pursue a science or technology career and nearly 4 times as likely to pursue a career in engineering.

About FIRST®

Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST®in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N[ew] H[ampshire], FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. With support from 3 out of every 5 Fortune 500 companies and more than $14 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) and FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for high-school students, FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for 9 to 14-year-olds, (9 to 16-year-olds outside the U.S. and Canada) and Junior FIRST® LEGO® League (Jr.FLL™) for 6 to 9-year-olds. Gracious Professionalism is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others and respects individuals and the community. To learn more about FIRST, go to

Dr. Cwiakala is one of Keenan’s Engineering teachers.