Rebecca Whitaker is the coordinator for FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Programs at the University of Iowa College of Engineering. FTC is a middle and high school-based program in which teams of students design, build, and program robots to complete tasks. Under Whitaker’s direction, the CoE has been the Affiliate Partner organization for FIRST Tech Challenge since 2009. Through this partnership, the Iowa program has become known across the world as a leader with FIRST Tech Challenge.

Whitaker was invited to attend the 2022 FIRST Global Competition October 13-16, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. Here are her reflections about the event.

In October 2022, I was fortunate to have been able to attend the 2022 FIRST Global Challenge in Geneva, Switzerland. The mission of FIRST Global is to inspire leadership and innovation in youth from all nations by empowering the students through education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). This robotics program – for students ages 14-18 – strives to have one team representing each country. FIRST Global strives to be the Olympics of youth robotics. The opening ceremony kicks off with a parade of flags and teams representing different countries.

In Geneva, there were 162 teams, each representing their own country. Additionally, there was one team, “Team Hope,” with students who were refugees. Another 17 teams competed virtually, due to various political barriers. Each team receives the same robot kit, and they must make a robot to accomplish tasks with that kit of parts. Depending on shipping, customs, and other political barriers, some teams received their robot when they arrived at the event. Other countries had qualifying tournaments for the best team to advance to represent their country.

The theme of the challenge changes each year, but all of the themes are related to grand challenges facing the world. The theme for the 2022 FIRST Global was Carbon Capture, which highlighted the importance of capturing and storing carbon dioxide to reduce and prevent its accumulation in the atmosphere. Beyond the robot, the teams could participate in a research project, which was sponsored by XPRIZE, called the New Technology Experience. The teams were able to learn about the impact of carbon dioxide in their country and develop their own innovative solutions to combat it. Three teams were recognized for their innovation to technology.

My role was to coordinate the tours for the VIPs who attended. The VIPs included representatives from XPRIZE, various UN ambassadors, FIRST Global sponsors, and celebrity guests, including Will.I.Am. I am a member of the planning committee for the 2023 FIRST Global Event in Singapore and look forward to participating.