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FIRST ® & Qualcomm: A Pioneering Partnership to Inspire Young Innovators

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Qualcomm Incorporated

FIRST Strategic Partner

It’s a future understood by two like-minded organizations: Today’s students will be the drivers of tomorrow’s breakthroughs. Together, FIRST ® and Qualcomm IncorporatedTM are working to engage and empower those future innovators.

Hear from Charles Bergan | Download Impact Case Study

Qualcomm is a world-leading wireless technology innovator, and a driving force behind the development, launch, and expansion of 5G and other foundational technologies that transform how the world connects, computes, and communicates. To stay at the forefront of innovation, Qualcomm invests in developing tomorrow’s workforce through STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. Since it was founded more than 35 years ago, Qualcomm has provided education technology, funded youth programs, and promoted the importance and access of STEM engagement.

As the world’s leading youth-serving nonprofit advancing STEM education, driven by a 30-year-strong global robotics community preparing young people for the future, FIRST and its programs enable Qualcomm to have lasting impact on young people ages 4-18.


“Each year, Qualcomm returns to collaborate with us on new ways to enrich our programs and enable greater access to FIRST programs for students around the world. Together, we’ve sparked that innovative spirit in hundreds of thousands of young people, inspiring our future STEM leaders, and developing the workforce in STEM-based careers.” said Mark Giordono, vice president of development at FIRST.


Driving STEM engagement and outcomes

Qualcomm began supporting FIRST in 2006 and has been a Strategic Partner since 2014. As a FIRST Strategic Partner, Qualcomm directly supports:

As Qualcomm’s support has grown, so has FIRST, across the globe, initially reaching an estimated 91,000 students in ~30 countries during the 2005-06 season to 679,000 students in 110+ countries during 2019-20.

The impact of FIRST is extensive for students and alumni. More than seven years into a longitudinal study, research shows FIRST participants, across all backgrounds, are significantly more likely to have stronger outcomes in STEM knowledge, STEM interest, STEM career interest, STEM activity, and STEM identity compared to their classmates. Notably, girls in FIRST report the largest differences in STEM outcomes over time when compared to their female peers, and other male students.

Engaging employees, developing an innovative workforce

FIRST provides a platform that:


Additionally, Qualcomm engages and recruits FIRST alumni for its internship program each year, which brings in hundreds of interns from across the globe. Many of these FIRST alumni go on to build their careers at Qualcomm, like Joy Cho, who is an engineer for Qualcomm Technologies Product & Tools Stability division. Joy discovered her passion for electrical engineering in high school as a member of her school’s FIRST® Robotics Competition team, where she built her skills and confidence on the electrical sub-team, then went on to an internship at Qualcomm Technologies.

FIRST alum and Qualcomm intern-turned-employee Joy Cho.

FIRST alum and Qualcomm intern-turned-employee Joy Cho continues to volunteer and support her team, FIRST Robotics
Competition Team 2537 “Space RAIDers.”


“One word I would use to describe my experience with FIRST would be ‘eye-opening.’ It opened my career path toward engineering, and it opened up so many amazing people who motivated me to move forward, including my mentors, friends, other students, and volunteers,” Cho said.


Providing global hands-on experience with leading technology

Qualcomm’s support has been critical in driving FIRST ® Tech Challenge forward on the global stage and expanding access to STEM. With this support, FIRST Tech Challenge:

  • Provides an accessible FIRST program in which teams of students ages 12-18 design, build, and program robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams.

  • Introduced the Android operating system as the basis for its robotics platform in 2015, featuring the Snapdragon® mobile processor.

  • Gives students hands-on experience with mobile technology that is easy to access and use for students across socio-economic and geographic borders.


“Implementing Qualcomm’s Android operating system allowed team participation to expand to more than 40 additional countries,” said Ken Johnson, Program Director of FIRST Tech Challenge. “With Qualcomm’s support, more students than ever have access to real-world technology and are gaining hands-on experience that will better prepare them for any future career path.”

During the 2016-2017 season, Qualcomm became Season Presenting Sponsor for FIRST Tech Challenge, the first ever title sponsorship of a FIRST program. With Qualcomm’s support, FIRST Tech Challenge has grown from 4,445 teams in 2015 to more than 7,600 teams in 2020 and has reached hundreds of thousands of students in 60 countries.

Qualcomm Chart

Since 2015, Qualcomm’s support has been critical in growing student participation in FIRST Tech Challenge across the global stage, now reaching nearly 80,000 students in 60 countries.

Ensuring all students have a pathway to innovation

Holy Cows

FIRST Robotics Competition team, “The Holy Cows” showcase their FIRST Innovation Challenge solution during an interview with Cheddar News.

During the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Qualcomm continued to support the FIRST community through leadership, expertise, and funding. Their commitment:

  • Allowed FIRST to adapt program opportunities and give all FIRST students hands-on access to the innovation process.

  • Enabled FIRST to expand remote innovation programming during the 2020-2021 season with the FIRST Innovation Challenge presented by Qualcomm.

  • Allowed teams to compete remotely, where more than 1,000 FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge teams created solutions to a societal problem inspired by the season’s health and fitness theme.

  • Led and supported patent education for participating teams to encourage people from underrepresented backgrounds to get involved in the innovation and patent processes.

The FIRST Innovation Challenge helped students develop their confidence and skills in programming and manufacturing, business and marketing development, understanding and using research findings, strategic and design thinking, and the entrepreneurship and innovation process. Participating teams developed creative solutions to increase safe, inclusive, and equitable opportunities for movement and play for all ages and participants. Because of the new programming opportunity, more students than ever are empowered to tackle the world’s toughest challenges and have the skills to build a better future.

Holy Cows Woodie Award

FIRST Robotics Competition Hall of Fame Team 1538 “The Holy Cows” receive sponsorship and mentorship from
Qualcomm, headquartered in the team’s hometown of San Diego.

Providing regional support for growth and sustainability

Qualcomm’s leadership in promoting STEM education internationally, including the Republic of Korea, India, Singapore, United Kingdom, Israel, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, and China, has played a significant role in the global expansion of FIRST. Qualcomm’s sponsorship of the 2016 Korea Robot Championship enabled the number of FIRST Tech Challenge teams to more than double from 13 to 29 that year. The event has continued to grow to include FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST® LEGO® League teams. The 2020 Korea Robot Championship, which was a remote event, included 100 teams and 700 student participants.


Robotics Team in Korea

FIRST Tech Challenge Team #11125 at the
2019 FIRST Championship.

“Qualcomm’s support has helped us offer the most advanced, well-designed, and best STEM nurturing programs in Korea. Many of our students go to universities in science and engineering,” said Kyoungmihn Do of The Federation for Education of Creative Science & Technology, the FIRST partner for Republic of Korea. “Additionally, all-girl robotics teams are very rare in Korea. Qualcomm’s team sponsorship helped us grow the number to 10 and helps female students get interested in robotics and STEM.”


But it’s closest to home where Qualcomm, headquartered in San Diego, California, has had its greatest regional impact. In its headquarters region, Qualcomm:

  • Invests directly in growing and sustaining FIRST teams and events across all programs, including as the title sponsor of the San Diego FIRST Robotics Competition Regional and presenting sponsor for FIRST Tech Challenge events, which are attended by thousands in Southern California.

  • Supports local FIRST partners in delivering FIRST programs to 11,200 students across over 1,000 teams in Southern California.

Charles Bergan

Qualcomm's Vice President of Engineering Charles Bergan discusses how STEM professionals are critical to solving the greatest problems on earth,
and how this generation of students will change the world.

David Berggren, FIRST regional director for Southern California, has been working with Qualcomm leaders for well over a decade to grow FIRST in the region and inspire more California students to pursue careers in STEM.


“It is very easy to say that FIRST would not have had the wonderful growth and reach that we do without the incredible support of Qualcomm over the years.  We and all the students that FIRST positively impacts are incredibly grateful for Qualcomm’s belief in and support of FIRST, which allows us to continue to inspire more and more students to be innovators in STEM fields,” he said.


Team Kickoff

Teams pose with droids during 2019-2020 FIRST Tech Challenge season kickoff celebration at Qualcomm Headquarters.

Celebrating young innovators from around the world

Qualcomm brought energy and engagement to the FIRST community’s most prominent event by helping make student robotics a spectator sport for people across the globe. Together, we hope to inspire our society to celebrate STEM in the same way our culture celebrates sports and entertainment. FIRST Championship is a culminating, international event for our youth robotics competition season, attracting spectators, celebrities, and media figures. Since Qualcomm became the event’s Presenting Sponsor in 2014, FIRST Championship has grown from a one-city event attended by 30,000 people to a two-city event double in size; in 2019, 77,000 attendees from 70 countries attended FIRST Championship in Detroit and Houston. Following the 2020 FIRST Championship’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Qualcomm collaborated with FIRST to pivot funding to FIRST mission support, sustainability, and to produce a season-culminating virtual celebration for the FIRST community.

Moving FIRST FORWARD: Full speed ahead

Qualcomm’s generosity continues to grow. In May 2021, FIRST announced Qualcomm as the presenting sponsor for the 2021-2022 cross-program season, FIRST® FORWARDSM presented by Qualcomm. The transportation theme is inspired in part by the UN Sustainable Development Goal focused on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation.


“Qualcomm is committed to ensuring youth from all backgrounds have the opportunity to learn the foundational skills that are critical to advancing a strong, competitive pipeline of STEM innovators,” said Susie Armstrong, senior vice president of engineering for Qualcomm Incorporated and a member of the FIRST Executive Advisory Board. “For the past 16 years, we’ve been fortunate to have helped grow these FIRST programs and look forward to inspiring even more participants in these essential programs this season. As we enter a new 5G era of connectivity and opportunity, these students will become the drivers of tomorrow’s discoveries.”


With its ongoing support of FIRST, Qualcomm is doing its part to bring innovation, collaboration, and STEM education to students all over the world. As technology and digital literacy become essential components of more careers than ever before, proficiency in STEM has emerged as a foundational 21st century skill. Qualcomm and FIRST are continuing to work together to expose students early and give them the confidence they need to succeed in the STEM workforce and to innovate to build a better world.

Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. Qualcomm and Snapdragon are trademarks or registered trademarks of Qualcomm Incorporated.