The ERSTE Initiative

Encouraging Robotics and STEAM Through Exchange

We are so excited to announce the official launch of The ERSTE Initiative! “ERSTE” is the
German translation of “FIRST,” and stands for “Encouraging Robotics and STEAM Through
Exchange.” The Initiative has grown from our German Exchange program, which is now in its
second year, but it encompasses far more than just the actions of one team and two schools
over a six week period.

The Exchange:

The most tangible part of the ERSTE Initiative is our German Exchange Program, which is
sponsored by the German-American Partnership Program.
The Hosting phase of the program occurs around March and April. German Students from the
Georg-Christoph-Lichtenberg-Gesamtschule (IGS) travel to the US to live with the families of
RoHAWKtics Team students in Knoxville, TN. Most students traveling in the 2017 exchange are
members of FTC Team 11515 RobotIGS, the FTC team started with the help of the RoHAWKtics
during the 2016 exchange. While in the US, the group does the following (and documenting it on their blog and twitter):

  •  attend school, both shadowing host students and attending classes of interest
  • go to our school’s Robotics and Design class
  • meet with our own FTC team and work on new challenges
  • come to FRC 3824 RoHAWKtics meetings and activities
  • explore notable STEM locations in the area, such as Oak Ridge National Labs, Alcoa, and Volkswagon
  • join our team at the local Smoky Mountain FRC Regional, denim uniforms and all
  • participate in everyday American life, learning and experiencing the language & culture

The Traveling phase of the program occurs in June, when the American students are on
summer vacation, but German students are still in school. Members of the RoHAWKtics, along
with their exchange partners, participate in many things while in Göttingen, Lower Saxony,

  • attend school and participate in classes, including the Robotics Programming class
  • (2016) work to prepare programming class for upcoming FTC season for new team
  • attend meetings with FTC Team 11515 RobotIGS
  • explore notable STEM locations and museums all across Germany, including the Autostadt and the local research University
  • work to recruit new members to the team and the exchange by speaking to students at the school
  • present to other faculty and schools to gain interest in expanding the program
  • participate in everyday German life, learning and experiencing the language & culture

In just one year, the program has experienced immense growth. The number of German
students has doubled from six to twelve, but interest was much larger. Over 50 students applied
to travel, resulting in a lottery process for choosing students to come. Hopefully, with the help of
other teams, the exchange can grow to support every student with a desire to discover FIRST
and travel to the US.

Goals of the Program:
  • spread the ideas and values of FIRST to Germany and Europe
  • create a model of FIRST Robotics-based exchange for other teams to replicate
  • expand to include more FIRST teams in the US & reach more schools within Germany
  • establish FTC teams in the short term, making FIRST more easily accessible
  • transition to establishing FRC teams in the long term, once enough corporate and community support are garnered
  • begin a European FRC Regional

We realize that these are large goals, and we know that we cannot do this alone. We
established the ERSTE Initiative in hopes of growing the program within the FIRST community.
Through conversations with FIRST President Don Bossi, we have received FIRST’s blessing in
the continuation of the initiative and the exchange.
We have been looking forward to launching The ERSTE Initiative and can’t wait to watch this
community grow together!
If you are interested in getting involved, learning more about the program, assisting our efforts,
or starting your own exchange, please feel free to contact us at or
contact our advisor John Tilson directly at