McKinley High School's initial involvement in FIRST can be attributed to one man back in 1999: Mr. Art Kimura. Mr. Kimura, a former science teacher at McKinley, a candidate for the first "Teachers in Space" program, and currently a consultant for the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium, opened the door for Robotics to flourish in Hawaii. At the same time, McKinley's Electric Vehicle Team had just competed in their fourth and last Electron Marathon. The Electron Marathon was an electric vehicle competition where students committed themselves to a problem-solving activity. Students built and raced an electric car of their own design. In addition to building this vehicle, students were required to provide written documentation, give an oral presentation, and participate in an hour-long vehicle endurance race. McKinley successfully won three out of four state Electron Marathon competitions.
To make a long story short, Mr. Kimura dined with Mr. Mark Leon, the NASA Ames Director of Education, at a neighbor island space-related conference. Mr. Leon informed Mr. Kimura that NASA was introducing the FIRST program to Hawaii beginning with the sponsorship of one team - Waialua High School Team #359. Mr. Kimura inquired if there was funding for an additional school. With a little persuasion, Mr. Leon approved another grant for Hawaii's public school system. Unaware of Mr. Kimura's good intentions, McKinley became Team #368. Mr. Leon then flew in members of Team #254, the Cheesy-Poofs, to visit Waialua and McKinley High Schools. After seeing the impressive presentation by the Cheesy Poofs, McKinley decided it was time to move on from the Electron Marathon program.
Many fledging engineers from the team continued their post secondary education at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, University Of Washington, Rochester Institute of Technology, USC, UCLA and the University of Hawaii. This marked the end of an era, but the beginning of a new challenge for students at McKinley High School. FIRST called to the students with a great and unlimited potential for growth and learning, and the newly formed Team 368 answered back with determination, commitment, and an unending enthusiasm.
Since the Cheesy Poofs visit in 1999, the McKinley team has continued competing in various robotics competitions including Botball and VEX. McKinley is also the host site for the FIRST Robotics Kick-off Event in Honolulu. The McKinley team works closely with FIRST officials to make the early morning event a success for the past eight years. In addition, to FIRST, McKinley students conduct after-school mentoring sessions at neighboring elementary schools and promote FIRST year-round by hosting demos at community events, local schools and shopping malls.
McKinley’s vision for FIRST has grown immensely over the past sixteen years. Many McKinley students have moved onto outstanding engineering institutions and graduated with high honors before moving into great careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics realm.