Robots as an Inspiration


Building robots might sound like the stuff of dreams to a young person. But with STEM programs from 4-H, FIRST Robotics and special events hosted by the men and women of Lockheed Martin, putting robotics principles into practice is happening at lots of ages and stages—all with the goal of inspiring the next generation of engineers.

Inspiration from Almost Anywhere
Straws, batteries, toy wheels, Legos, CDs, coffee stirrers, food skewers…What do these objects have in common – other than often being found in a kitchen junk drawer?  These are just some of the items inspiring the next generation of engineers through 4-H’s Robotics Curriculum.

Since 2011, Lockheed Martin has partnered with 4-H to inspire the next generation of engineers through their participation in Robotics Clubs.

“With more than 70 percent of all jobs in the new economy being STEM related, 4-H is creating an early youth interest in science with the help of programs such as the 4-H Robotics Clubs," said Donald T. Floyd, president & CEO, National 4-H Council. "Partnering with corporate leaders in the STEM sector like Lockheed Martin and its employees increases our reach of hands-on, inquiry-based learning by teaming up industry experts and young people. 

For software engineer Guy Gilstrap who works on the F-35 program, this partnership is personal; Gilstrap’s son and daughter are both members of the Parker County, Texas, 4-H Club. When the opportunity arose to partner with a new robotics club, Gilstrap leapt at the chance – and worked with a group of 10 students for several months.

“My daughter has visited the F-35 facility through Girl Scouts, and when my son James turned 10 a month ago, I was able to take him for the first time,” said Gilstrap. “That – and their participation with 4-H – has truly inspired them. My son already knows he wants to be a robotics engineer, and my daughter is interested in being a math or science teacher.”

Inspired by Nature and Robotics

Growing up on the banks of the Niger River in Africa, Kingsley Fregene was inspired both by nature and robotics.

Training My Replacement
Software engineer William Guinn’s children are also involved in 4-H. His 12-year-old son Evan even became his Robotics Club assistant.

“My son has had a long-time interest in robotics,” said Guinn. “One of the students in our Club had no experience, but Evan worked closely with him. 4-H Robotics not only helped my son grasp higher-level engineering concepts – but it fostered his leadership skills. I often joke that I’m training my replacement.”  

“There’s nothing like seeing the light bulb go on in kids when they are able to grasp something for the first time,” he added. 

Guinn’s club used the NXT (Lego) software to build individual robots – including tanks and drag racers which used sound sensors to make them move faster.

Collaboration and Competitions
Being an engineer isn’t a prerequisite for mentoring students in Robotics Clubs. Program Manager Sasha Sears became involved with FIRST® LEGO® League through her 13-year-old son Aidan.  Lockheed Martin has a longstanding relationship with FIRST Robotics; in 2013, nearly 380 Lockheed Martin employees mentored students and assisted teams for FIRST Robotics competitions.

“My role is to really inspire the students and encourage their creativity and collaboration,” said Sears. “At one time my son’s team – called the A-Team – was having difficulty programming their robot. They didn’t give up or get frustrated, and came to understand that things don’t always come together in the first round.”

This year, Aidan’s team and hundreds of thousands of students in more than 70 countries are focused on how robots can help in a natural disaster. The competition involves more than just the technology of building a robot; it includes a research component, a presentation to judges, and an evaluation of the team’s core values – or how well the team works together.

Aidan’s team won the research award in a November competition. “These are a group of very talented kids,” said Sears. “To inspire them to study technology is going to pay off for companies like ours – and will also help the future of our country.”

Ongoing STEM Support
Our 60,000 engineers, scientists and IT professionals work with STEM groups year-round to help inspire tomorrow’s scientists, engineers and mathematicians. They also organize special outreach for events such as National Engineers Week. In 2013, Lockheed Martin engineers in Orlando, Fla., organized a Robario Kart showdown. To demonstrate their engineering prowess, the students put their robots to the test, darting in and out of obstacles.


December 18, 2013

  • In 2013, Lockheed Martin contributed more than $10 million to support education initiatives with a strong emphasis on STEM education. Our approach to STEM outreach includes non-profit and school partnerships that provide unique opportunities for our employees to build one-on-one relationships with students as role models and mentors. 


Speaking of the Future: Robotics

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Evan Guinn and his father, William Guinn, prepare for the next class of the 4H Robotics Club

To learn more about how you can get involved with 4-H Robotics, or any of Lockheed Martin’s STEM Programs, please contact Jennifer Mandel. To learn more about FIRST Robotics, please contact Meagan Campion.  


Lockheed Martin is also proud to be the Founding and Presenting Host of the third annual USA Science & Engineering Festival, the nation’s largest celebration of all things science & engineering. The festival is designed to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers with school programs and nationwide contests, as well as a finale Expo in Washington, D.C. on April 26-27, 2014, that includes hands-on activities and performances.