Every year as January sets in, there’s a palpable excitement that sweeps through classrooms, robotics labs, and the homes of thousands of teenagers around the globe. It’s the robotics season, spurred by the international STEM competition, FIRST. This excitement isn’t simply about competition, it’s the anticipation of innovation and camaraderie amongst other engineering enthusiasts. With over 3,300 teams from 31 countries, what started in 1992 as a humble contest has evolved into a massive educational phenomenon that leverages tools like Onshape to shape our engineers of tomorrow. 

FIRST is only one of the many STEM competitions hosted around the world to guide students with the shared dream of pursuing engineering. 

PTC sponsored team, 6329 The Bucks Wrath, presenting ‘Ajax’ at the Pine Tree District Event in 2022.
PTC sponsored team, 6329 The Bucks Wrath, presenting ‘Ajax’ at the Pine Tree District Event in 2022.

About STEM and FIRST Competitions 

Picture this: A team of teenagers huddled together in a makeshift workshop, their faces illuminated by the blue glow of iPad screens of intricate blueprints. They’re brainstorming, sketching on a floor littered with aluminum scraps, nuts, and bolts. It’s not just about the shiny win; it’s the thrill of creation. 

STEM competitions, like the National Geographic GeoChallenge, serve as a platform for these young inventors to apply their creativity toward solving real-world issues. In 2019, organizers invited students to develop creative solutions for the plastic pollution in our waterways. One notable finalist team produced a “river sweeper” to collect plastic debris from rivers. Another organized an awareness campaign surrounding the harmful effects of fishing materials on the environment. In a team-oriented setting, each participant finds themself having to bounce ideas off one another. This is when collaboration becomes an integral part of the design process. It’s not a surprise that building cool things requires a team effort.

Onshape, in particular, is proud to support student robotics competitions such as FIRST and VEX. Offering a full set of tools for complete parametric design, Onshape’s CAD provides both ease of use and mobility, making it the perfect CAD system for student teams participating in STEM competitions. 

robotTeam 6329’s robot, ‘Ajax.’

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. At the heart of FIRST’s philosophy is the concept of “Gracious Professionalism” – a special way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. The competition revolves around robotics, with the students tasked with designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in a floor game against other teams. 

FIRST is just one of the many STEM competitions held around the world where students develop solutions for real-world problems. Such competitions challenge students to apply their theoretical knowledge in practical ways, pushing their problem-solving and critical thinking abilities to push the limit. STEM competitions can offer a productive outlet for developing solutions to ease our churning minds. 

With this understanding of STEM competitions’ structure and significance, let’s delve into how these experiences directly impact students and their development. Engaging in these contests provides more than just an innovative platform for young minds – it reshapes their academic and interpersonal skills, laying a solid foundation for future pursuits. 

The Profound Impact of STEM Competitions on Student Development

Participating in STEM competitions, like FIRST, offers students a wide range of benefits. To begin, these contests provide a platform for students to apply their classroom knowledge in a hands-on environment. STEM competitions, in general, are instrumental in bridging the gap between academic theories and their practical applications. For instance, the principles of mechanics, such as force, motion, torque, and energy, play a core role in designing a functional robot. However, as the robot is being physically designed, students learn a lot about how applying physics hands-on can yield unexpected results. 

Secondly, as students work amongst one another, they master the art of effective communication. From coordinating efforts to managing conflicts, team leaders, especially, are tasked with channeling their inner conductors. Just as a maestro guides each section, balancing the intricacies of a cutting-edge CAD design with multiple teammates requires a sharp level of expertise. 

Finally, STEM competitions give aspiring engineers the opportunity to speak with professionals, mentors, and thought leaders in the industry. This is the perfect way for students to learn about potential career paths, scholarships, and internships. By witnessing firsthand how STEM concepts weave their way into industries like robotics, aerospace, biotechnology, and beyond, students can gain a deeper understanding of the diverse applications of their academic pursuits.

The Advantages of iPad CAD for Student Teams 

In competitive environments such as FIRST and VEX, collaboration is key when students are working from home or in between classes. iPad CAD, especially Onshape, optimizes teamwork by allowing simultaneous access and editing of design projects. Instead of being confined to a single desktop, students can carry their designs with them on a lightweight tablet wherever they need to go.

Rather than storing files locally on a single desktop within a designated workstation, the portability of a cloud-native CAD on an iPad enables students to be swift and mobile. 

As PTC’s Applications Engineer, Domenico DiMare recounts from his tenure as president of Boston University’s Baja SAE team, the value of a cloud-native CAD platform is enormous. When quick design changes are necessary during the building process, team members can fluidly make adjustments on their iPad tablets. 

Leading a team of fresh engineers can often be chaotic with outdated designs and a barrage of questions. However, cloud-native CAD solutions streamline communication. Teammates can post comments, queries, and responses, enabling senior members to provide instantaneous feedback.

industrial drill
Effortless Organization through paperless storage.

Navigating the headache of minor errors that require complete project reprinting is an experience many can relate to. But with Onshape,  the days of physical printouts are behind us. Onshape not only reduces paper consumption, it allows judges to delve into a team’s entire design process, appreciating every team member’s contributions.

An organizational feature such as Onshape’s product data management lets engineers in the professional world focus more on design and less on the secretarial task of ordering sheets of paper.

Onshape on a tablet and on a mobile device.Onshape can be accessed on the big screen, a tablet, and a smartphone – at the same time!

When it comes to recruiting new STEM members, Onshape’s integrated Augmented Reality feature, “AR View” offers an interactive way to experience Onshape CAD models. AR serves as a powerful tool to bring designs to life and display their function accurately. This capacity to visualize, adjust, and demonstrate designs on the fly helps make Onshape on the iPad is an invaluable tool for students in STEM competitions. 

Indeed, as we glimpse into the exciting world of STEM competitions, it’s clear that these events are more than mere contests. These areas of innovation provide an environment where experimentation is celebrated. They are the classrooms of the future. 

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