Interview with Debra Mumm-Hill, FIRST Pacific NW Director
Q: Can you tell OEN a little bit about Oregon FIRST Robotics and how/why it started?
A: FIRST was started by inventor Dean Kamen 23 years ago because he could see the trend in the United States where science and math were no longer the focus of K-12 education, nor was being “smart” esteemed in the youth culture as much as sports and Hollywood is. Oregon FIRST was established with the help of NASA and Hewlett Packard in Corvallis back in 2003. The Oregon University Systems stepped up and partnered with FIRST programs to deliver the elementary and middle school level robotics.
Q: How important is a STEM*-prepared workforce for other industries and sectors and how can they get involved?
A: Right now in the US there are 1.7 STEM jobs open for every unemployed American compared to 4.5 unemployed people to fill 1 non-STEM job. It is imperative that we make the shift to STEM for our nation’s success and prosperity. Most of the STEM talent in Oregon is imported from other states and countries. FIRST works tirelessly to make sure that Oregon students are being pipelined so that they can be first in line for jobs no matter where they seek employment after school.
*Note: STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math
Q: Technology startups face the same challenges as larger companies when it comes to being able to find technical talent. How would you encourage them to get involved?
A: 65% of FIRST students want to work where their mentors work so by getting tech employees out mentoring one of the 550 FIRST teams in Oregon will automatically build your future workforce. You may have to wait 4-6 years for them to complete college, but your company will get first dibs on the STEM talent.
Q: Do you ever see Oregon FIRST Robotics participants going on to start companies? What what would you say to students who want to take what they learn and go on to be a young entrepreneur?
A: We have many FIRST alumni in San Jose who have startups as it is the culture they grew up in. Oregon students are not so savvy about that process as they have not had great exposure to it or nor have they met many near-to-peers who have taken risks. I am working with Kelly O’Brien from YEBW to see if we can figure out a way to put the FIRST students (the inventors who are not as motivated by $$) with the entrepreneur/business types together in high school via her program.
Q: How can the OEN community find out more about Oregon FIRST Robotics?
A: Come to the FIRST VIP breakfast on March 8 at the Memorial Coliseum or attend anytime March 8 or 9 from 8:30 – 4:00. The event is free and open to the public.