ISA and Automation Federation take part in 2017 FIRST® Championship, an international celebration of young people’s interest in science and technology

  • May 04, 2017
  • Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

As strategic alliance partners of FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the International Society of Automation (ISA) and its umbrella organization, the Automation Federation, took part in late April's FIRST Championship, an annual international celebration of young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

The 2017 FIRST Championship was conducted in two cities: Houston (April 19-22, 2017) and St. Louis (April 26-29, 2017). ISA and the Automation Federation participated in events at both venues: an informational exhibit, automation career program, and a Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program in St. Louis; and a Women in Stem program in Houston. 

More than 60,000 students from around the globe, from ages 6 to 18, put their engineering skills and scientific know-how to the test in four different age-specific, team-oriented FIRST programs during the two-week period. The FIRST Championship features three separate robotics competitions-the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship (grades 9-12); the FIRST Tech Challenge (grades 7-12); and the FIRST LEGO League (grades 4-8)-as well as the FIRST LEGO League Jr. (grades K-4).

Spearheading the participation of ISA and the Automation Federation at the events was Steven Pflantz, an electrical and automation engineer who serves as 2017 ISA President. Pflantz has now attended all seven FIRST Championship events held in St. Louis.

"Every year I look forward to this event, visiting with some of the brightest and best young people worldwide," Pflantz says. "The consistently high caliber of students involved demonstrates that FIRST has a winning approach to attracting young people to STEM and developing their interest and aptitude."

Pflantz was among a group of practicing automation professionals-volunteering on behalf of ISA and the Automation Federation-that met with FIRST competitors and their family members to answer questions about career opportunities in automation and engineering. This year, a particular emphasis was placed on highlighting STEM-centric career opportunities for women as evidenced by the fact that Women in STEM programs were held in both cities.

"The importance of pairing our students with an engaged and accomplished group of engineering and automation professionals cannot be underestimated," emphasizes FIRST founder Dean Kamen. "Our students get the opportunity to work with professionals whose work reflects the typical challenges and creative rigor that is at the heart of our program. I applaud the efforts of the Automation Federation and ISA to tap the resources of our FIRST students as a means of raising awareness of STEM and helping us to remain competitive in the fields of automation and technology."

A centerpiece of the FIRST Championship is the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), which combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of designing and building robots. The competition provides students, from grades 9 through 12, with the opportunity to use sophisticated software and hardware, learn from professional engineers, collaborate, earn recognition, and qualify for millions of dollars in college scholarships. In all, approximately 83,000 students on 3,336 teams from 25 countries competed in FIRST competitions during the 2017 season.

The FRC enables students to:

  • Learn from professional engineers
  • Master STEM skills
  • Utilize sophisticated software, hardware, and power tools
  • Improve teamwork, and interpersonal and communication skills
  • Qualify for more than $30 million in college scholarships

The FRC's positive impact on its student participants is impressive and well documented. Through their involvement, more than 88 percent demonstrate greater interest in education, and 92 percent are more interested in attending college.

"Fostering interest and enthusiasm among young people is critical to developing the next wave of automation engineers and technicians needed to meet the challenges of the future," emphasizes Michael Marlowe, Managing Director and Director of Government Relations at the Automation Federation. "Events like the FIRST Robotics Competition drive home just how exciting STEM and automation-related learning can be for young people. ISA and the Automation Federation have immense potential to tap into this excitement, and attract many more young people to our profession."

Marlowe encourages all ISA and AF members to take a closer look at how they can get more involved in FIRST programs and activities.

This year, approximately 230,000 volunteers (including mentors, coaches and judges) contributed more than 17 million hours-covering a wide range of roles across FIRST programs. The FIRST volunteer website outlines the various ways automation professionals can become involved, most commonly as a mentor or coach or as an event-day volunteer.

"By participating in FIRST and other discovery programs targeted to young people," Marlowe says, "we can reconnect to the enthusiasm that ignited our own drive to learn and pursue an automation career and, at the same time, inspire others to follow their own path toward success in the profession." 


Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, 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 more than 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and nearly $25 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST®Robotics Competition for students in grades 9-12; the FIRST® Tech Challenge for grades 7-12; the FIRST® LEGO® League for grades 4-8; and the FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. for grades K-3. 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