Cheers echoed over excited hands waving handmade signs. Team colors were splashed across a sea of anxious faces. The subject of this fervent adoration? Kids, and the robots they designed and built themselves.

That’s right. More than 25,000 students, ages 6 to 18, traveled from all over the world to compete—not for how fast or far they can run, but rather for their skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

TOP, BOTTOM: Beach Cities Robotics students gear up. The Robobuilders claim the prestigious Gracious Professionalism Award.

Improving reach of robotics

However, for me, this is still not enough. I want this program in every school across the country. It is my dream for robotics programs to be celebrated on par with high school football games, track meets and tennis matches. I want every student to experience the excitement of solving real-world challenges within the intensity of robotics and to be celebrated for their accomplishments, as others are celebrated for their athletic talents.

“Within the world of science and technology, anyone can go pro.”

Several states, including Connecticut, Minnesota and Texas are leading the way in this effort. Each has sanctioned robotics as an official sport, offering every student in every school access to hands-on engineering challenges. Teams are honored at school events alongside other athletes, with support from administrators, teachers and community leaders and students have the opportunity to earn varsity sports letters for high performance.

On many campuses, trophies for robotic victories are displayed in the schools’ sports hall of fame. What better way to engage students in subjects that will put them on the right path to future success?

Real goals, realized

I find that most kids nowadays tie success to being a celebrity or an athlete and idolize such superstars. But in terms of what those superstars will achieve, and oftentimes financially earn, can pale in comparison to their science and technology counterparts. When you consider that of the 8 million students who participate in American high school athletics, less than 6 percent will compete at the collegiate level—and that, of that group, only a very small fraction will realize their goals of becoming professional athletes—a career in sports becomes a remote prospect for most kids.

In contrast, within the world of science and technology, anyone can go pro. What it boils down to is that we need to do everything we can to help students foster a love for science and technology. Making kids smart has a high return on investment, at an often surprisingly low cost.