It's never too early to build robots -Comicon panel shows how students can make it happen

Parents may worry that today’s tech is robbing their children’s attention span, but Mesa’s champion Westwood Robotics high school team knows how tech can be used to enrich a kid’s life: just build wicked awesome robots with your friends.
At the 2014 Phoenix Comicon convention in downtown Phoenix, the team presented “How Robots are Taking Over High School,” where they shared their experiences in robot competitions, advice on how students can get involved in robotics programs and how to start their own.
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The panel, which included Emily Tiedemann, 18, Cyam Cajegas, 17, Joseph P. Garcia, 18, and Marcia Roberts, 17, discussed how important the robotics program FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) has been in their lives.
Cajegas, who has spent four years with the program said, “Engineering looked practical, but my heart wasn’t in it. But being in FIRST, has changed me so much. It changed the quiet kid in me and made me something that I never knew I was. I’m very passionately going to be in engineering, and I have no regrets in doing that.”
They listed the following programs which are associated with the FIRST international youth organization, founded in 1989 to inspire youth interest in science and technology. Through robot-building challenges and competitions, kids not only develop crucial STEM skills, but learn how to work as a team. It also provides them access to millions of dollars in scholarships. Click each program title for more information.
Jr. FLL (Junior FIRST LEGO League) 
Grades: K-3
Kids design and build LEGO-challenge related models. They develop teamwork skills, practice presentation skills and discover real-world math and science concepts.
Grades: 4-8
Teams find solutions to a chosen real-world scientific Challenge by building autonomous (controlled through pre-programmed code) LEGO robots on a time crunch. Past Challenge topics have included nanotechnology and climate, and through these, kids are exposed to various STEM principles.
FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge)
Grades: 7-12
Participants build competing robots from the design system TETRIX. Students program these robots and compete against each other on teams through alliances, in a sports-like model. Teams battle on 12 x12 foot field.
FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition)
Grades: 9-12
Known as “a varsity sport for the mind,” teams build competing robots from either a kit or from scratch. Students program these robots, design a team “brand” and raise funds. They compete against other teams through alliances, in a sports-like format, working with professional engineers to hone their skills.

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Westwood Robotics’ champion robot, The Crimson Chain.

Here are some of the team’s tips for creating a program at your school:
-Find a neighboring school that already has a FIRST program or team, and shadow their group to see how it functions.
-If you don’t want to join a team right away, go to a competition. Tiedemann promised “You’ll see how amazing it is.”
-If money is an issue, FTC is an easier option to start that will eventually build you up to FRC.
-Find a solid team of mentors. That doesn’t just mean technically savvy people, but also those who can help with writing, fundraising, etc.
-Or simply contact Westwood Robotics (below), and they’ll help you out.