Fulbrighter Inspired by International Robotics Competition

4 min readOct 4, 2017

Last July, I had the honor to volunteer at the FIRST Global Challenge, which was held at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. It was simply wonderful to see the smiles on the faces of the youth I worked with, especially knowing I helped contribute to those smiles.

FIRST Global organizes a yearly robotics challenge to inspire youth around the world to pursue their dreams of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Each country sends a national team to compete at the annual Global Challenge, which is held in a new city and country each year. It was the first international robotics competition ever, and brought together teams of youth from 157 countries around the world.

Mohamed Ali with the Tunisian team

High school students had the opportunity to not only strengthen their STEM skills through robotics, but also learn the value of teamwork, communication, and cooperation. From China all the way to Madagascar, it was incredibly amazing to see how these young bright minds engineered some of the most impressive robots I’ve ever seen. Most importantly, they shared their knowledge with each other and celebrated cultural diversity and international unity.

“By bringing the future STEM leaders of the world together in an engaging and collaborative environment that teaches them to communicate, cooperate, and work together, using the tools of science and engineering, they will gain the trust with one another that enhances a more truly global community despite differences and preconceived notions,” Dean Kamen, FIRST founder and the Segway inventor, said in his speech during the open ceremony. I fully believe in the FIRST mission and was honored to be a part of this important and influential program.

Robot waiting for a match

I was happy to see that young women were instrumental in the competition’s spirit as well. Over 60% of the teams that participated in the global challenge were organized, led, or brought about by women. Teams like the United States, Jordan, and Ghana were composed of only young women, inspiring hundreds of young girls to embrace STEM education and to mark their footprints in the science and technology field.

Being a Field Technical Advisor, I was responsible for one of the four game field areas. My job was to intervene in case a technical issue, before, after, or during the game, is reported. With the humble knowledge that I bear, I tried my best to advise and mentor young team members with technical and tactical hints and to contribute to the success of the 2017 FIRST Global Challenge.

Opening Cermonies

The award and closing ceremony was full of excitement, pride, cheers of joy, and unforgettable memories. I cannot be more appreciative of this great opportunity that allowed me to contribute to positively mobilize the youth within a STEM dimension. I am very thrilled to be part of such a community where we showed everyone that the people of the world have more in common than they do in differences.

Over the few days that followed the closing ceremony, I have received countless messages from the 157 teams’ participants — expressing the same joy I found in helping them overcoming hurdles during the competition. Most heartwarming were those in the FIRST community who have said they have never seen a more inspiring event. But I am also very touched by the compliments from some of them thanking me for just serving as an Arabic-English /French-English interpreter to explain and integrate them in the spirit of the game.

Participants competing against each other

Undoubtedly, robotics did bring nations together and proved that our common interests greatly outweigh our differences. In the words of Dean Kamen addressing the youngsters in the opening ceremony: “Not only will you have the chance to discover that what you have in common greatly outweighs your differences, but you will have the opportunity to get to know your fellow citizens of the world, who have taken it upon themselves to tackle the most challenging problems facing our collective futures across this world of today and your world of tomorrow.”

The First Global Challenge gave me the opportunity to take on a position of leadership. I was inspired by the accomplishments of all of the students I worked with. Because of this outpouring of benefits that I witnessed, I cannot wait to play a vital role once again within the same competition next year. I look forward to seeing a new generation of STEM leaders next year in Mexico City.

Mohamed Ali is currently studying Robotics Engineering at the University of Maryland and is from Tunisia.

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