In 2019, Yifei “Bruce” Li represented Team China at the FIRST Global Challenge, an annual Olympic-style robotics competition that welcomes high school competitors from more than 150 countries. During the challenge, Team China helped members of Team Korea build a mechanism they needed for a match, only to face off against Team Korea the next day.

“They used that mechanism and won that match,” he said. “Afterward, we shook hands, and they thanked us for building the structure for them.”

That was a new experience for Li, who had previously taken part in competitions where participants had to worry about theft of design ideas.

Now a first-year McKelvey Engineering student majoring in computer engineering, he returned to the event this past October as a volunteer and mentor. Li spent four days in Geneva helping competitors by inspecting robots to make sure they met competition regulations and adhered to safety requirements.

“I got to personally chat with the teams in the pit area,” Li said. “I told them what I liked about their robots and asked about the design process and how they worked.”

To remain inclusive and accessible to high schools around the world, the challenge isn’t very technical. Instead, Li said the competition focuses more on cultural exchange and encouraging students’ interest in robotics. Students share candy and snacks from their home countries, and the competition kicks off with a high-energy opening ceremony and parade.

Li said many of the students and volunteers stay in touch following the competition and continue to support each other in their studies.

“I’m an introverted person, and I’ve surprised myself by making friends from so many countries,” Li said. “This year, without the pressure of getting high scores or making robots work on the field, I got more chances to communicate and make connections with other people.”



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