The Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), held March 10 and 11, at the Maverik Center, recognized University of Utah mechanical engineering associate professor Sanford Meek as the 2017 Volunteer of the Year. Since the inception of bringing FRC to Utah, Meek has been a supporting decision maker and doer on the Utah Regional Planning Committee, and at each Utah regional competition.

Robots built by 48 high school teams, mostly from Utah, but from as far away as California and Alberta, Canada, competed in the 2017 annual Utah Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, co-sponsored by the University of Utah’s College of Engineering.

Volunteers make up 99% of the FIRST workforce and are often thought to be the “heart” of FIRST programs.  Each regional competition requires more than 100 volunteers, most of whom put in three or four 12-hour days. Members of the Planning Committee, such as Meek, meet year round. Dr. Meek’s research on biocentric robotics helped inspire the original grant that led to the Utah Regional. For over ten years he has provided imagery, vision, and wisdom, before, during, and after each event. During the event, he is on site from the beginning taping the pits, building the field, taking videos and photos, offering direction, and even staying to the very end to disassemble the field.

“In his professional community, Dr. Meek is known for his research in prosthetics control as someone that helps amputees grasp delicately,” says event chair, Dr. Mark Minor. “He is also known as someone that understands what makes quadrupeds trot along effortlessly. Considering his generous contributions, the Utah Regional FRC recognized him as someone that helps Utah bound gracefully forward.”


FIRST, a not-for-profit 501c(3), was founded in 1989 in New Hampshire by Dean Kamen in order to “. . . inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology.” The “public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.” FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) for youth in 9th – 12th grades was the first program the fledging organization created.  Since then, FIRST has designed three additional levels creating a suite of programs for children, beginning with FIRST Lego League Junior (K-3rd grade), FIRST Lego League (4th – 9th grade), FIRST Tech Challenge (7th – 12th grade) and culminating in FIRST Robotics Competition, (9th – 12th grades).

Recognizing the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, parents, educators, industry, and government are providing access to FIRST programs across the country for youth of all ages.  FIRST is now in all 50 states and over 80 countries. Utah is one of the most recent, with early adopter FRC teams competing in the early 2000s from Blanding, Salt Lake City, Logan and Woods Cross.