Looking for something fun and geeky for Saturday? Check out competitive robots!

The Pacific Northwest FIRST Robotics tournament is an annual competition modeled after varsity sports, pitting high school student teams and their full-size robots—some weighing hundreds of pounds and standing as much as six feet tall—against one-another on a playing field about the size of a basketball court.

This year’s event, entitled Recycle Rush, will have six competitive robots at once, built by smart, innovative students from Oregon and Washington, ripping around the court at top speed to pick up, sort and organize “recyclables” more efficiently than the other guys. Nothing could be more true to Portland spirit, yet this weekend’s competition ultimately leads to national finals and a global championship.

The event will be held this Saturday, Feb. 28 at the Clackamas Academy of Industrial Sciences in Oregon City. Things begin at 8AM.

Not only is the tournament fun to watch – it’s also an important component of Oregon’s local workforce pipeline and the most engaging STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education program you’ll ever see. According to the Oregon Employment Department and Portland Metro STEM partnership, nearly 100,000 Oregonians worked in STEM occupations in 2008, representing 5.6 percent of all workers and expected to grow at a rate of 8 to 13 percent by 2018. Overall, STEM workers in Oregon can expect to earn nearly twice the Oregon median wage. Robotics fosters student passions that can ultimately lead to college scholarships and six-figure income opportunities that students may never have realized exist if it hadn’t been for robotics.

If you’ve seen the movie Spare Parts, about a Phoenix high school robotics club that opens doors for kids, you get the picture. Robotics teams really are giving kids a leg up, and the area tech companies that sponsor this program, such as Autodesk, Mentor Graphics, First Tech FCU, Boeing, Flir, Insitu, Tripwire and Waggener Edstrom, understand the value of having tech talent available locally to hire. Recent studies indicate fewer than 1000 students graduated from Oregon universities with STEM degrees in 2011; at the same time, Oregon companies project a need to fill 39,000 STEM openings by 2020.

Great fun, great learning experience, great benefit to our tech business community and Maker-types, young and old. Come on out this weekend to support robotics and give the students some encouragement.

The photo gives a sense of the grandeur and scale of FIRST Robotics competitions.

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This is a guest post from the FIRST Robotics folks.

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