Real encounters with STEM learning

Competitions help students get a jump on science and tech careers

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Retired astronaut Robert Curbeam Jr., a Raytheon executive, advises students that STEM skills help launch a wealth of fast-growing careers.

When Courtney Roberts joined a FIRST® — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — Robotics team in middle school, it wasn’t because she was interested in technology. “I signed up because the competition was being held in Disney World,” she says, laughing.

In fact, Roberts had no plans to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math — the STEM fields — at all. Now, she’s finishing up her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Roberts traces her dramatic change of heart back to Matt Driggs, a Raytheon engineer who has been a FIRST Robotics mentor for 18 years. Driggs works with teams of high school students to build robots that go head-to-head in local, regional and national FIRST Robotics competitions through our MathMovesU program. In 2015, we gave $1,000 scholarships to 40 high school seniors and college students who participated in FIRST Robotics and are pursuing a career in a related field.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for FIRST and the support of Raytheon,” Roberts says.

We also support the prestigious National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which gives students experience running a business system and fending off attacks.

We need the next generation of engineers to be hands-on. – Ric Roberts, FIRST Robotics mentor and Raytheon employee

The 2015 winners, the University of Central Florida Knights, were challenged to keep the network of a utility company secure while taking customer complaints about power outages. Their coach, Tom Nedorost, cites practice and teamwork as the factors that set them apart. “Sometimes they didn’t even have to speak to act,” he says. “It was like they were reading each other’s minds.”

We encourage middle school students to dig into STEM through the Raytheon MATHCOUNTS® National Competition, which last year awarded a $20,000 Donald G. Weinart Scholarship to champion Kevin Liu. And in Paris, a Raytheon-sponsored U.S. team won the 2015 International Rocketry Challenge.

“We need the next generation of engineers to be hands-on,” says Ric Roberts, another FIRST Robotics mentor and Raytheon employee. “These programs give us visibility into kids’ interests early on and create a pipeline of future technology professionals.”

Raytheon's Robert Curbeam Jr. visits a school in the United Arab Emirates to help spur interest in STEM education.


Retired NASA astronaut Robert Curbeam Jr., who completed four spacewalks during the STS-116 mission in 2006, recently visited schools in the United Arab Emirates to help spur interest in STEM careers. Curbeam, vice president and deputy of Space Systems for Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business, told students that STEM skills are launchpads for a wealth of fast-growing career paths.

Published On: 04/23/2016
Last Updated: 01/31/2018