MOUNT VERNON — Cheers, chants and applause exploded from the gym turned robotics arena at the FIRST Robotics Competition at Mount Vernon High School on Saturday.

Thirty-nine high school teams from the Northwest are competing in this year’s event. Three are from Skagit County: Anacortes High School’s Cyborg Ferrets, Sedro-Woolley High School’s ROBOCUBS and Mount Vernon High School’s IMVERT.

The three-day event began on Friday and will culminate on Sunday.

FIRST, which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is a global not-for-profit that aims to inspire youths to be STEM leaders and innovators through working with robotics. Programs start for kids as young as 6 and continue through high school.

Kevin Ross is the founding chairman of FIRST Washington, the state’s chapter of FIRST.

“We’re looking for the kids who would like to be engineers, but just don’t know it yet,” he said.

Of the approximately 24 kids on each high school-level team, eight of them are “nerds,” Ross said good-naturedly, who were already going to be engineers. It’s the 16 others who are most dramatically impacted by FIRST’s programs, exposing them to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

Elisabeth Jenkins, 18, fell in love with robotics eight years ago when she went to a competition in Maryland. From there, she participated in a FIRST LEGO League for those in elementary through middle school, and later, FIRST Robotics Competition in high school.

“It’s so diverse,” said Jenkins, who attends Anacortes High School. “There are so many different things you can do and so many different people you can meet.”

Diversity was also mentioned by Mount Vernon programmer Madilyn Fisher, 14, of team IMVERT.

“We have boys and girls on this team. A girl can do anything a boy can do. A boy can do anything a girl can do. We don’t care about gender or race here. We just want to have fun,” she said.

​— Reporter Leah Allen: 360-416-2149, lallen@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Leah_SVH

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