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FIRST Robotics Founder Dean Kamen: Celebrate STEM to Engage Students, Drive Innovation

How do you engage more students in STEM education? This was the question in front of inventor extraordinaire and FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen, and he approached it the same way he did every other one, the same process that led him to develop groundbreaking innovations in health care and robotics: Look outside your toolbox.

Speaking on Michigan’s Center Stage Wednesday, Kamen shared how “looking outside his toolbox” led him to musician will.i.am., who became a critical partner in loudly celebrating the FIRST Robotics program and career opportunities in STEM.

“FIRST isn’t a science fair, it’s a movement,” exclaimed the singer during one of the group’s international competitions.

Kamen’s passion for the program stems from his belief that future innovations depend on the investments made in the STEM talent of today. While American culture often obsesses over sports and entertainment, he stressed that it is scientists and engineers who will develop the world’s most impactful new technology.

Kamen also recognized Michigan for its own part in “loudly celebrating” FIRST Robotics and STEM education, reporting that in 2014, the state had more rookie FIRST teams than the whole nation combined. To end his Conference keynote, he urged leaders and elected officials to follow Gov. Rick Snyder’s lead and make STEM education a major priority.