Iowa FIRST LEGO® League Close to Top in Per Capita Participation


Iowa now ranks second nationwide in per capita youth membership on a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team.

Yet, even with another year of explosive growth in Iowa youth getting a STEM boost through research and robots, Camille Schroeder, director of K–12 outreach programs at Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, said the participation milestone does not mean that Iowa’s FLL program has stopped recruiting students and mentors.

“We want to be able to provide this experience for any youth who wants it,” Schroeder said.

Founded in 1998, FLL is a research and robotics-based problem-solving program for children ages 9 to 14. (A separate FIRST LEGO League Junior program caters to children 6 to 10.) A total of 441 Iowa FLL teams participated in 2015.

Teams across the state participate in events throughout November and December each year to show off their learning and skills. State championships are held each January on the Iowa State campus, directed by Iowa State University Engineering K-12 Community Outreach. This year, for the first time, the finals grew from one 72-team event to two 60-team competitions.

ffl1-2016Bruce Newendorp, a retired John Deere engineer who now serves as an Iowa assistant regional director for FIRST, said the programs teach students both STEM skills and business decision making.

“They take the standard learning and apply all that to real-world situations,” he said. “You’re going to build one robot, but you might have 10 different ideas about what to do. Those skills are extremely valuable in the real working world.”

Partnerships with business and industry leaders around the state are critical to the program’s success, Schroeder said, since there’s a continual need for volunteers and support through grants to launch additional teams.

Organizers continue to focus on recruiting students who may not otherwise be aware of the program, including younger children, girls, and those from underserved populations.

ffl3-2016“We’re pleased to be above the national average” in participation by girls, Schroeder said. “But we have a lot more to do.”

Andy Marshall, a longtime FLL volunteer and FIRST Senior Mentor from Cedar Rapids, said the program can awaken great interest in students. He cited three Iowa companies who decided this year to offer high school internships after interacting with students at an event.

Companies saw “the value and level of professionalism that those students bring to the game,” Marshall said. “You see the students become their better selves in an incredibly short time.”

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A version of this article was published in the Fall 2016 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.