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Letter from the Chairman of the Board: Eric J. van Gemeren

Dear FIRST in Texas community,

As we begin a new year I would like to take a moment to say thank you and share some of the things going on at FIRST in Texas. Let’s start with an introduction.

Eric van GemerenMy name is Eric J. van Gemeren, and I am the new Chairman of the Board for the FIRST in Texas Foundation. As a long-time sponsor and mentor of FIRST robotics teams in North Texas I have seen first-hand the impactFIRST programs has on students, schools, and communities.

Since its inception in 2010, FIRST in Texas has grown participation in FIRST® programs across the state to now include nearly 3,300 teams made up of more than 36,000 students supported by 22,250 mentors, coaches, and volunteers.  In that same time period FIRST in Texas, through partnerships with the Texas Workforce Commission and generous contributions from numerous Texas-based companies and foundations, has raised and disbursed more than $8.5M to teams in grants and financial assistance.  More importantly, in 2020 alone FIRST in Texas volunteers logged more than 648,000 hours to make events possible. I am proud to be a part of such a worthy organization that has a direct impact on PreK-12 STEM inspired students who are our future workforce. These young innovators have inspired me and I am honored to continue the great work begun by previous Chairmen, Ray Almgren and Chris Culbert.  My goal over the upcoming years will be to build on their successes and expand our reach to more young people in more communities, and expand the capabilities of the FIRST in Texas organization to provide more value-added support to school districts, coaches, mentors, individual team members, and their parents in order increase the impact that the FIRST program has in our communities in Texas and New Mexico.

The day-to-day operation of FIRST in Texas is led by an amazing staff with support from thousands of volunteers across dozens of roles.  Most notable among them is the role of our Executive Director, who oversees the planning and execution of all FRC, FTC, and FLL programs in Texas and the FRC program in New Mexico.  Patrick Felty has done a fabulous job in this capacity for the past several years and has made FIRST in Texas better for it.  To fill the void he will leave behind, the Board and I have commenced a formal search for a new Executive Director.  We will be examining both internal and external candidates.  In the meantime, to facilitate the transition, Jason Arms – currently our Director of Operations – has graciously agreed to serve in an interim role until we select a permanent candidate.  Jason brings to this role a tremendous amount of experience, energy, and passion for FIRST and I have the utmost confidence in him to keep the organization running during this transition.  I am sure that each of you will join me in supporting Jason as Executive Director during this period.

The 2021 season is now well underway.  I know many of you still have questions about what to expect for the remainder of the year given the impact of the pandemic on our usual in-person events.  The work to answer these questions is ongoing and should become clearer in the coming weeks.  For now, what I can tell you is that the changes that COVID-19 has brought about will go far beyond our 2021 season, and have given us the opportunity to re-imagine the depth and breadth of ways that we engage with teams, school districts, and our partners.  With these changes there will undoubtedly be challenges, but I am confident that the spirit of inventiveness and practicality that are hallmarks of the FIRST experience will ultimately prevail and leave us a better, and more effective organization as a result. I think this Dean Kamen quote says it best,

“We’re not using kids to build robots. We’re using robots to build kids.”

The ‘kid building’ continues with remote game play, online training, virtual events, and interactive challenges. FIRST has always been about more than robots and FIRST in Texas is here to meet the needs of our program participants across the state. I invite you to join us in fostering STEM education through FIRST programs and developing the next generation of leaders and innovators in Texas.

Sincerely,

Eric J. van Gemeren
Chairman of the Board  – FIRST in Texas
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