Local kids compete at inaugural Bryan-College Station FIRST LEGO League qualifier

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Last month, more than 200 volunteers, participants, coaches and parents attended the inaugural FIRST LEGO League qualifier at First Baptist Church in Bryan.

Each year, an overarching theme is announced that teams must try and tackle – this year’s being "Animal Allies."

Six teams from the event will advance to the invitational round, where they will compete again hoping to rise up the ranks to go to the international competition.

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The event was a mixture of engineering, team-building, creativity and, of course, lots of fun.

Dr. Malini Natarajarathinam, associate professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University, was the primary organizer for the event and was very proud its success.

“We had approximately 70 volunteers help throughout the day with 20 FLL teams and 11 FLL Jr. teams competing – about 250 attended total!”

Natarajarathinam worked with FUNgineering president Dr. Jeremy Steinshnider to bring an FLL qualifier to the Brazos Valley. 

“There were several teams in Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, but nothing in Bryan-College Station,” said Natarajarathinam. In order to see if there was enough interest in the region, she announced a local informational session and held it on campus.

Expecting a small group, Natarajarathinam was blown away when more than 200 people showed up asking what they could do to help bring FLL to Bryan-College Station. 

First Baptist Church in Bryan offered to host the qualifier and the event was set in motion.

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“I was amazed at how smoothly the event went for it being our first year hosting,” said Steinshnider. “My favorite part was the parade of teams at the beginning and seeing all the costumes that the teams were wearing.”

Steinshnider stressed the overwhelming benefits that the FIRST program provides kids today.

“FIRST is really good at getting kids excited about STEM through a fun and challenging robotics competition. Additionally, they learn how to research a problem, brainstorm solutions and present their findings in front of judges, giving them a glimpse of what real scientific and engineering research is like.”

Gail Peterson, instructional coach with Bryan ISD, brought students to compete and said it was a fantastic experience.

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“[The qualifier] provided an opportunity for my students to compete with other local students, to problem solve, to work together as a team and improve their communications skills. My students had a great day!”

Natarajarathinam wanted to give heartfelt thanks to Women in Engineering Director Shawna Fletcher, students Nina Rodger and Claire Rowan, as well as PK-12 Engineering Education Outreach Director Shelly Tornquist for their help and management in making the event a success.

For more information on FLL events in the Bryan-College Station area going forward, visit the TAMU FIRST Facebook page and website.

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