By Xinxin Zhang, Research Intern, East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago.
Note: this article originally appeared in the East-West Center’s Asia Matters for America/America Matters for Asia initiative on August 15, 2017.
FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, an international robotics competition in Washington, DC from July 16 to 18, attracted teams of teenagers from 163 countries. The Challenge was founded by inventor Dean Kamen and MIT professor Woodie Flowers, aiming to galvanize an interest in science and technology among youth and promote opportunities to develop necessary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills to conquer modern day challenges.
Almost all Asian countries were represented in this global challenge and some of them won several medals in different categories. Among the participants, the Afghan team of six girls drew the most attention. They were rejected for US visas twice, but were eventually granted temporary parole status after President Trump intervened. By attending this competition, the team hopes to show the world that they are passionate about robotics and that the people of Afghanistan should not be viewed as terrorists. The team was awarded a silver medal as part of an award for courageous achievement.
A team of four teenagers from Singapore’s Anglo-Chinese School brought home a silver medal in the challenge category. The third place of this category went to a group of seven Indian students. Indonesian Students from the Islamic school TechnoNatura International Madrasah won a silver medal in the innovation category. They have been learning robotics as a part of the school’s curriculum since elementary school. The Brunei Team of six students attended the international competition for the first time as well in hopes of inspiring more students in Brunei to take up STEM education.
Approximately one third of international students from Asia at undergraduate or graduate institutions in the United States chose to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in the 2014-15 academic year. Nearly 80% of Indian students study STEM programs in United States in response to the India’s role as a growing technology hub. In March, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe acknowledged the contributions of India to the development of STEM professionals in the United States during US National Governors Association 2017 winter meeting.