ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, and Team Aberdeen Proving Ground hosted their eighth annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Lego League Qualifier at ATEC headquarters on APG North Jan. 12.

FIRST Lego League, or FLL, is a robotics program for fourth through eighth grade students intended to excite them about science and technology while teaching them valuable employment and life skills.

According to the FLL website, FLL challenges students to research and develop solutions to real-world problems such as food safety, recycling, energy, etc. Students must design, build and program robots to fulfill specific missions and then compete in robot competition matches on a table-top playing field. The goal is to have students develop critical thinking and team-building skills and basic application of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, concepts.

This year, 17 teams participated in the tournament. Out of those 17 teams, four teams advanced to state finals, which will be held Feb. 23 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. Joel K. Tyler gave opening remarks welcoming the students and expressed the Army's appreciation for robotics technology.

"Robots are really important to us in the Army," Tyler said. "Some of the robots we use in the Army have saved Soldiers lives and have brought them home, and that's really important to us. We're counting on you to help us build the robots of the future."

Every year, FLL challenges revolve around a theme that focuses on real-world topics related to science. This year's theme, "Into Orbit", addresses the issues people face traveling into outer space. Students were tasked to identify a physical or social issue, develop a solution, and present their solutions to volunteer judges.

Soldiers were among those who volunteered throughout the event. Lt. Col. Alicia Johnson, a senior acquisition officer from ATEC, shared what she hopes students will take away from this experience.

"I want students to realize that STEM is fun," Johnson said. "I think we always think about math and science as boring subjects. But hopefully through this FLL competition and other similar experiences, the students will see how they can apply those subjects and tackle challenges through teamwork."

The all day tournament consisted of morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning, teams presented their projects where they identified their solution to the problem they chose to solve. Robot competitions took place in the afternoon where students programmed robots to conduct multiple two and a half minute missions.

Volunteers judged each team's project, the robots, and how well they ultimately incorporated the FLL core values. The core values are inspiration, teamwork, and gracious professionalism.

A third year participant, Molly Jurch who is a Bel Air Middle School student, praised the hard work put in by fellow participants. Jurch said her favorite part of the FLL experience is the atmosphere because all the teams are supportive of one another.

"I think people had some really great ideas that could really change the space world," Jurch said. "It's cool to see the different variations and designs of the robots that we have in the competition."

In the future, Jurch said she wants to be an environmental engineer to help solve global warming and climate change.

Before concluding the event, Tyler provided the students with questions related to space exploration to see who could correctly guess the answers.

Tyler gave closing remarks reinforcing to the students some of the key takeaways gained from the event.

"It is so impressive to see every one of you and how you talk to each other," Tyler said. "Remember that we came here to act as a team, respect each other, and to have fun."

The following team advanced to the state finals: Robo Rovers, In the Beginning, Wild Cats and Space Invaders.

FIRST has many competitions including the Junior FLL, FLL, the FIRST Tech Challenge and the FIRST Robotics. To learn more about the FIRST program and the competitions, visit http://firstlegoleague.org/.