How Qualcomm is Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators


Qualcomm 2019
© Qualcomm

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 8.6 million STEM jobs in May 2015, with the highest jobs in software development, user support, and systems analysts. Despite the high number of jobs, the lack of skilled workers in the labor force allow these positions to go unfilled. To make matters worse, the existing STEM workforce lacks diversity among women and minorities, not representing the emerging workforce of women and underrepresented groups

That’s why Qualcomm has partnered with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) to provide technology, employee volunteers, and direct grants to support K-12 STEM education. FIRST, who we have written about in the past, presents STEM education to students of all grades and skill levels, introducing them to a world of robotics and software while developing invaluable skills of leadership, teamwork, and communication. Since 2006, Qualcomm has supported FIRST’s programs, events, and robotic teams worldwide.  

In addition to supporting the program worldwide, Qualcomm has also become a major technology partner with the FIRST Tech Challenge program, which brings together teams of students from grade 7 to 12 to design, build, program, and operate robots using Qualcomm-enabled smartphones. This technology collaboration has given 180k+ students in over 25 countries direct hands-on experience with Qualcomm technology. The platform allows students to use cutting-edge technology while learning how to code in Java, gaining a competitive advantage in the job market. 


© Qualcomm

FIRST inspires students from kindergarten to the end of high school to immerse themselves in hands-on robotics programs that leverage innovative technology along with mentorship from industry professionals. According to its impact report, over 75% of FIRST alumni are working or studying in the STEM field. Many alumni go on to study engineering or computer science, eventually pursuing internships and jobs in the field at companies like Qualcomm.

For example, Jordan Burklund, a FIRST alum, credits his passion for robotics and engineering to FIRST and Qualcomm’s support. Through the FIRST Tech Challenge, he was a key member of his team and worked on a project to drive the teams robot remotely from anywhere in the world. Jordan went on to intern at Qualcomm, working with the R&D team to test new drone platforms. By encouraging FIRST alumni to apply for their internships and full-time positions, Qualcomm is nurturing the next generation of innovators and creators in the STEM workforce. 

FIRST and Qualcomm’s partnership creates a robust, early foundation of interest and exposure to STEM education to students, opening the field to a more diverse group. For the past several years, Qualcomm has focused their team funding on supporting all-female, diverse teams like the first ever all-female FIRST Tech Challenge team from Korea, who went on to qualify for the FIRST Championship. The partnership has also led to a global expansion—in 2019, over 76,000 students from 80 countries celebrated the FIRST Championship in both Detroit and Houston, thanks to Qualcomm’s support as a Presenting Sponsor. 

Qualcomm’s support brings invaluable resources and opportunities to FIRST participants, and their collaboration with FIRST brings together like-minded individuals transforming the STEM field and workforce. By making STEM fun and approachable, students are more inclined to learn about robotics and meet real engineers who mentor them on practical skills. Through the programs, Qualcomm and FIRST teach foundational skills, give opportunities, and build confidence for students to become leaders and decision makers in STEM fields.