FIRST LEGO League brings STEM, robots, and hundreds of area students to campus this weekend

A judge examines an entry in the FIRST LEGO League competition held on Shoreline's campus in January of 2015.

A judge examines an entry in the FIRST LEGO League competition held on Shoreline’s campus in January of 2015.

For the second year running, Washington FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is partnering with Shoreline Community College to bring the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition to Shoreline’s campus this Saturday and Sunday, January 23-24.

A robotics competition developed for upper elementary and middle school-aged students, FLL aims at inspiring youth to take interest in science and technology as potential career fields. Participating teams investigate a research topic around an assigned theme while also building and programming a small robot to meet a specific challenge.

The road to forging a partnership between Shoreline and Washington FIRST started about four years ago when Shoreline’s Acting Director of Manufacturing, Michelene Felker, attended a community festival in White Center.

“Highline High School was there with a robot, and I noticed there were CNC (Computer Numerical Control) parts—the type my students make—on their machine,” said Felker. “That’s when I learned high school robotics teams often work with local shops that sponsor them by creating parts for them.”

That sparked an idea for Felker, who began welcoming local high school robotics teams to campus to collaborate with Shoreline’s CNC students in designing and building parts for their robot creations.

After establishing relationships with the high schools, Felker turned her attention to younger grades. “It’s important to spark imaginations early,” she said, “and to get kids excited about the variety of possibilities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields from a young age.”

She met with FIRST and made the pitch to bring FLL to Shoreline. “We are leaders in STEM and it’s part of Shoreline’s mission to be student, community and state oriented,” Felker said. “Hosting this amazing event on our campus and giving it a space for the greater Shoreline community to enjoy just made sense.”

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The first FLL on Shoreline’s campus was held in January of 2015. “It was fantastic,” said Felker. “Hundreds of people attended. The whole community came out and had just a great time supporting these students and marveling at the scope of their work.”

Many of the community members in attendance were industry leaders who served as mentors to the teams during their planning, building and programming phases.

“About 90% of the mentors are in engineering, manufacturing, or another STEM field,” said Felker, “so our students who volunteer at the competition actually learn about employment opportunities and meet key leaders in local businesses. It’s truly a community event and a great learning experience for everyone involved.”

Along with student volunteers, about twenty Shoreline staff and faculty will volunteer at this year’s competition, which will be held in the main gym and several classrooms.

While the teams and their awe-inspiring creations are the main event, Felker hopes attendees witness something else as well. “By bringing this event to our campus and inviting the community to partake, I hope we demonstrate that college is accessible and I hope that we can help take away the fear about going to college that some people might have. We are, at our core, a partner and a resource within the community.”

The FIRST LEGO League competition is this Saturday and Sunday, January 23-24 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Shoreline Community College Main Gym (3000 building). The event is free and open to the public.

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