30 years of FIRST NH: A return to the motherlode

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Mayor Joyce Craig posted in front of the FIRST sign, which will be on display outside City Hall throughout the month of September. Above: A FIRST team from Turkey gets a photo op with the big FIRST sign during the 2016 international competition in Houston. Courtesy photo

MANCHESTER, NH – If you noticed the looming letters outside City Hall that stand nearly as tall as Mayor Joyce Craig, then you might be wondering what’s up with that.

Actually, the sign is self-explanatory: FIRST robotics is kind of big deal around here.

“Have letters will travel,” says Kristi Scarpone, of FIRST NH. “The letters are sort of on tour at the moment.”

It’s part of a celebration of all that has evolved out of FIRST NH and Dean Kamen’s initiative 30 years ago when he launched the non-profit entity known best by its acronym. But when you spell it out, the organization has been an extraordinary boost, for tech education and the joy of playing with robots: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

My, how it’s grown.

All these years later, Kamen continues to rock the world of science and technology in a big way – his latest endeavor (and acronym) is building a 21st-century ecosystem around ARMI – Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, positioning Manchester as ground zero for “making practical the large-scale manufacturing of engineered tissues and organs, and to develop a trained and ready workforce necessary for that manufacturing.”

But FIRST is where it all began, and the organization is celebrating a growth spurt of its own here in the Granite State.

Flashback to 2016 and Memorial’s Crusin’ Crusaders robotics team, with Tumbler and their winning banner. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“Eighteen months ago the organization received a NH Dept of Education grant for funding to grow FIRST teams in our home state, and we had philanthropists and businesses augment that funding, so we grew quite a bit over the last two years,” Scarpone says. “Mayor Craig was kind enough to display the sign for the month at City Hall as a back-to-school initiative, which helps us to amplify the message that we want everyone to find their local FIRST teams, whether it’s at the Police Athletic League, their schools, the Boys and Girls Club – there have never been more opportunities for kids to get involved.” 

There is a residual $135,000 in funding from that grant which is available to schools interested in developing a FIRST team, added Scarpone.

Although the heavy-metal FIRST sign was erected Aug. 30 at City Hall Plaza, on Friday the finishing touches were added, including a QR code so anyone interested can quickly link to the FIRST website for more information, or to find a local team. The organization is also seeking more business sponsors.

“And we’re really excited that the sign will be on display during Saturday’s Cruising Downtown Manchester car show,” says Scarpone, who spent most of Friday contacting local FIRST teams to see if any were available to bring their robots to City Hall for demonstrations during the car show.

“We put the call out to see if any of our teams were available, with less than 24-hours notice,” Scarpone said. “It’s a spontaneous opportunity, but we figured with John Clayton emceeing the event – his niece is a FIRST alumni now studying at WPI, he knows first-hand what it’s all about, so we have our fingers crossed.”

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FIRST NH Robotics Governor’s Cup competition is coming Oct. 13.

The large FIRST sign has a story of its own, explained Scarpone. Constructed by Texas-based NRG Energy for the 2016 FIRST world championship in Houston, the sign was the centerpiece for thousands of photographs with teams from around the world.

“NRG gifted it to us, and so we brought it back to Manchester – the home of FIRST. This is the first time it’s seen the light of day since then,” Scarpone said.

There are also two other FIRST events on the horizon.

On Sept. 8 hundreds of students will gather at FIRST Place, the organization’s downtown HQ located at 200 Bedford St., for a joint kick-off for this year’s space-themed LEGO League and Tech Challenge initiatives.

And coming Oct. 13, The Governor’s Cup will take place at Plymouth State University, an off-season competition with a unique pay-off – free tuition for a semester for up to 50 high school seniors who participate with their FIRST Robotics teams. Registration is now open.

“So basically, the big FIRST sign is our big thank you to all those who participate in and support what we do, and to celebrate the fact that FIRST began right here in Manchester, and continues to do amazing things for our community,” Scarpone says.


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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!