FIRST Appoints Seasoned 'Veterans' to Manage Robotics Programs in Growing Regions

FIRST Appoints Seasoned 'Veterans' to Manage Robotics Programs

Longtime FIRST Volunteers Use their Experience to Direct Robotics Programs in These Areas

MANCHESTER, N.H., December 30, 2011 -
FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a not-for-profit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, today announced new personnel appointments for its Field Operations in the U.S. The new members will cover Louisiana, Southern and Central Florida, Illinois, and Arkansas for the K-12 FIRST progression of robotics programs.

"Our Regional Directors and Assistant Regional Directors share a passion for promoting science, math, engineering and technology exploration among young people in their communities," said Roseann Stevens, Vice President of Field Operations, FIRST.  “The Field Staff is a state or a city’s key to bringing the mission of FIRST to parents, schools, mentors, the business community, and young people. They see to it that ‘rookies’ and ‘veterans’ alike on area robotics teams gain the skills and confidence from real-world, hands-on problem-solving and working side-by-side with professional Mentors. They help open their minds to exciting education and careers paths they may not have considered or thought possible."

New appointments hail from Arkansas; Central Florida; FIRST Headquarters (Manchester, NH); Illinois; Louisiana; and Southern Florida.

The role of a Regional Director at FIRST includes coordinating local activities as well as developing new regional partnerships and volunteer Mentors and Coaches — with the goal of creating and maintaining robust, volunteer-driven, and self-sustaining FIRST robotics programs in each region.

FIRST holds local and regional robotics competitions for K-12, including the FIRST ® Robotics Competition (FRC®), the FIRST ® Tech Challenge (FTC®), the FIRST ®  LEGO® League (FLL®), and the Junior FIRST ® LEGO® League (Jr.FLL®). Currently, FIRST participation in the US includes 295,000 students in K-12. (

New FIRST appointments include:

  • Rhonda Christen, Assistant Regional Director, Louisiana — Christen has been involved with FIRST in the Bayou region since 2008, through her work at ITT Technical Institute. Christen holds degrees in drafting and design from ITT Technical Institute and Health Vocation/Medical Technician from Eastern College in Louisiana.
  • Sandra Contreras, Assistant Regional Director, Southern Florida — Contreras has a bachelor’s of science degree in industrial and systems engineering from Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico and an M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Contreras became involved with FIRST as a Mentor/Coach in Junior FIRST LEGO League. She brings with her a diverse background in business and technology. Currently Contreras serves as the Director of Business Development for Mass Hispanic Marketing in Miami.
  • Dan Green, Regional Director, Illinois — Green has been involved with Illinois FIRST since 1996, serving as a team leader and mentor. In 2007, he received the National Woodie Flowers Award, the highest award for FIRST Mentors to the programs, and he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Midwest Regional. Green holds his bachelor’s of science in computer engineering from the University of Illinois and his MBA from the University of Chicago. He has long worked in the telecommunications industry with Motorola Inc., and is the Chief Operating Officer and Acting Chief Technology Officer of The Learning Guide Network Inc. (an online directory of learning providers and learning events).
  • Michelle Long, Administrative Assistant for Field Operations and Volunteer Resources, FIRST Headquarters — Long has a bachelor of arts degree in technical theater from Hillsdale College. She has worked in the Admissions Department at Bay State College and at the North Shore Music Theatre.
  • Meredith Novak, Assistant Regional Director, Arkansas — Novak has a long relationship with all of the four FIRST robotics  programs from K-12, as a FIRST LEGO League and a FIRST Tech Challenge Partner for Arkansas, and as a judge and Mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition teams. Novak has a bachelor of arts degree in economics and business from Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and has worked extensively in the financial and telecommunications industry and is currently a freelance writer and editor. 
  • Theresa (Terri) Willingham, Assistant Regional Director, Central Florida — Willingham has been involved with FIRST through the FIRST Tech Challenge since 2008. She is a professional writer by trade and is also the President and Founder of Learning is for Everyone Inc. (a non–profit education resource organization). Willingham holds a degree in English and journalism from Florida International University and is a member of The Author’s Guild.

About FIRST  

Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST ® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With support from three out of every five Fortune 500 companies and nearly $15 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST ® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) and FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) for high-school students, FIRST®  LEGO® League (FLL®) for 9 to 14-year-olds, (9 to 16-year-olds outside the U.S. and Canada) and Junior FIRST®  LEGO® League (Jr.FLL®) for 6 to 9-year-olds. Gracious Professionalism is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. To learn more about FIRST, go to