Seven residents of Montgomery County were among the 1,500 youth and volunteers from more than 191 countries to travel to Dubai recently for the FIRST Global Challenge robotics event.

Members of the New River Robotics Association have been preparing since August to assist teams with technical issues that could arise during the competition.

Making the trip were Franky Marchand, the president of NRRA, a retired coach of the Tech Challenge Team 4924 Tuxedo Pandas and a Dublin Volvo Manager; Isabelle Marchand, the NRRA Outreach Coordinator; Alexis Marchand, a former Tuxedo Panda and current New River Community College student; Chloe Marchand, a former Tuxedo Panda and a senior at Christiansburg High School; Arnav Garg, also a former Tuxedo Panda and a junior at Blacksburg High School; CHS Robotics teacher Preston Childress; and Jeff Levy, NRCC Engineering Design Technology and Program Head instructor and advisor.

One of the largest events of its kind, the Global Challenge sought to encourage and empower youth with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), develop their skills and equip them with the tools necessary to contribute to shaping the future. The challenge aimed to address the world’s most critical environmental issues such as the wasting of water and energy, sustainability and pollution.

Teams were tasked with developing robots from provided kits to clean up the millions of tons of pollutants in the oceans produced mainly by factories, mismanaged sewage systems and marine activities.. The teams were made up of four or five students between 14 and 18 years old.

This is the first time this event was held outside the Americas. In 2017, FIRST Global hosted hundreds of student teams from around the world in Washington, D.C. Their challenge was “Access to Clean Water.” The 2018 challenge in Mexico City addressed “Sustainable Energy.”

Isabelle Marchand said, “The FIRST Global competition is such an amazing event. You have kids from all over the world working together no matter their religious, social or political background, making connections and proving global unity is possible. FIRST Global is planting seeds for a better future”.