STEM students host the FIRST LEGO League at SCHS, giving back to the program

On Saturday, Nov. 17, Santa Clara High School hosted a qualifying round for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL), attended by 16 middle schools from across Silicon Valley. The event was almost entirely set up and run by SCHS STEM students.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” said event coordinator Nimish Khanduja, who works for the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute. “Everyone is very committed while having fun.”

The FLL is a competition for middle school students run by FIRST, a nonprofit organization aiming to increase student interest in STEM. High School students participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), the next level up, according to junior Hawk Azordegan.

Although SCHS students are too old to participate in FLL, many of them were members of the program as middle schoolers. According to Khanduja, it allows the high schoolers to run the event much easier.

“The volunteers are very committed because they were part of the FIRST LEGO League competition,” Khanduja said. “They understand the requirements and the responsibilities of the day, and that helps it run much more smoothly.”

This was the third year SCHS hosted an FLL competition. The first shift of students arrived at 6:00 a.m. to begin setting up and although the layout of the competition had to be adjusted because of the air quality, volunteers were happy with how it turned out.

“I definitely think this is a better FLL tournament because we have a ton of space out here [in the main gym],” said junior Gaurav Bhatnagar, one of the volunteers. “I know if I was in FLL, I would enjoy coming to this one because it’s not so cramped like other ones.”

Students participated in almost all areas of running the competition, including emceeing, sound setup, field resetting and timekeeping. The only job they were excluded from is judging, according to Azordegan.

The opportunity to volunteer at FLL was given to all STEM students. Azordegan said he chose to volunteer for the competition because outreach is one element of the FTC.

For Bhatnagar, volunteering is his way of contributing to the program that he participated in back in middle school.

“We don’t really get the opportunity once we get out of the program [FLL] to get back in, but we can always give back what we learned, and this is my way of giving back,” Bhatnagar said.