FIRST: Mentoring the next generation of innovators

“It was a whole machine shop with a bunch of tools, a lot of chaos and so much going on,” he recalled. “And I said to myself, ‘Okay, this is awesome. I'm totally sold.’ That is how robotics got me hook, line, and sinker.”

Golden is now a systems engineer at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. He’s also a mentor for the Beach Cities Robotics FIRST Robotics Competition Team 294 – the very same team he joined as a teenager, and one of many that participates in robotics and engineering competitions through the organization FIRST.

That organization is a partner in Raytheon Technologies’ Connect Up initiative, which in part seeks to develop a strong, diverse next-generation STEM workforce. Raytheon Technologies businesses sponsored about 400 teams in the 2022-2023 season and provided hundreds of employee mentors and coaches. 

“It's really heartwarming to see students come in lost and find the best place for them to fit into the team.”

Chris Golden | systems engineer | Raytheon Intelligence & Space

“The development and success of our collective future relies on unique perspectives and problem-solvers from all backgrounds. FIRST programs are equipping all young people with the skills and confidence to be better innovators, problem-solvers, and contributors to the STEM workforce of today and tomorrow,” said Michelle Long, the organization’s director of alumni relations. “By equipping students like Chris with the skills and tools necessary to be successful in their future endeavors, FIRST is ensuring a brighter future for us all.” 

Golden was just the kind of student FIRST likes to reach. He had never considered a career in engineering, and he didn’t think he was particularly strong in math or science. But he did like tinkering, he liked critical thinking, and he loved the idea that he could use those skills to solve problems – the very heart of engineering. But he really dug in once he learned computer-aided design, which allowed him to modify and update robots and systems according to the needs of the mission.

What he learned on his FIRST team serves him well today at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, where he helps build optical systems for fighter jets and orchestrate the performance of unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Each of these projects can be traced back to an activity I’ve done on the robotics team,” Golden said. “What makes FIRST unique is that while an aerospace program’s lifecycle lasts years, the robotics challenge lasts a few months and you get to develop the concept, design, and build the whole system.”

Every FIRST challenge, no matter the details, offers students the opportunity to grow and develop new interests, Golden said.

“We have freshmen who come in and never used a hand drill before and they become responsible for the machine shop,” Golden said. “Students all grow into and gravitate to different roles on the team, and sometimes the mentors make new positions to give a title to what role the student has grown into. It's really heartwarming to see students come in lost and find the best place for them to fit into the team.”

Though working with the team feels familiar for Golden, much has also changed. Specifically, the team is larger, having doubled to nearly 50 members, and more young women are taking part.

“It’s awesome seeing the interest in robotics really grow in size and popularity,” Golden said. “The team’s enthusiasm has skyrocketed. The parents are super enthusiastic and have become actively involved and are even dressing up for competitions to show their spirit.”