Blog Post

FIRST in Rural Areas

Often we hear that we cannot start FIRST teams in the small towns in Upstate NY.  Here is a case study from rural Oregon that shows it can be done.


Umatilla is a small, rural town located in the northeast corner of Oregon. Introducing students to the importance, and fun, of a STEM career, and providing opportunities to develop their skills, breaks down barriers to further education and helps them achieve success in careers they didn’t know were available to them.

Bringing FIRST to Umatilla
Interested in encouraging STEM participation among students, Schools Superintendent Heidi Sipe created Umatilla’s FIRST Robotics Competition team of nine members. With virtually no business support or school district funding available to contribute to an after-school STEM program, Heidi turned to grants and the community. Family members were drawn in as Mentors. The team’s success led to the creation of the STEM Academy of Umatilla, a free K-12 after-school program, where students participate 12 hours each week, in classes focused on developing interest in STEM and providing a hands-on opportunity to develop a variety of skills.

Impact in the District

The initial FIRST team now numbers 51 students and boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate. Earned college credits and college enrollment rates are up, and students are building skills and confidence, while contributing to the proud community that has helped to field their team.

Contact Rebecca Wasmer ( or Ron Borden ( for more information on how to get started.