FIRST: the incredible community

(sorry for the length of this, as I broke my own rule of being a concise poster)

Jane and I were trading PM’s, and she encouraged me to start this sort of thread. So… if this discussion goes well, we can blame her. :slight_smile:

FIRST is definitely unique. Sure, we build robots and compete. We get together as teams, bonding as we go through a FIRST season (recruit, plan, design, build, freak out, compete, celebrate, repeat). We mingle and relate to other teams along the way, sharing ideas, winning and losing matches, and then dancing the YMCA at an event next to a fellow FIRSTer on another team. Of course, there is the Inspiration that happens.

On these discussion boards, we’ve talked about robot designs, competitions, sometimes politics and religion, and even how to make a 4 pound turtle cake.

What we have not discussed much is the fact that the FIRST community is simply an incredible networking tool, with access to many influential and important people in our society.

What other programs can people on any participating team have access to the people who are putting robots on Mars or developing the newest technology of space travel? How cool is it to be able to talk with world famous CEO’s, leading edge inventors, highly respected leaders in education, business owners, and at the same time get to know peers (adults and students) on other FIRST teams 1/2 way across the world? What other program puts these role models on a first name basis with teenagers?

FIRST is cool. It’s a community of people who care about what is happening today in order to influence the way we all will live in the future. What is the price that these folks pay to help achieve the goals of FIRST? They make themselves ACCESSIBLE. Access is key. It is commendable to these visionaries and leaders give themselves up to be accessible to those of us in FIRST… students and adults.

Now, I would like to get to the discussion about this.

This access can be a difficult thing to manage. Since these folks are accessible, sometimes they are subjected to people who do or say things that are not well thought-out. I’ll give an example:

Dean Kamen was hanging out at his “Founders Party” during the night before the FIRST kickoff a few years ago. I was waiting my turn to say hello (my typical “thanks for opening up your house to us, Dean”), and another mentor began talking to Dean. Dean, being the nice guy he is, listened as this guy went on to tell Dean that he thought the Segway was crappy and should be re-designed. Dean said something nice and thanked him and then gracefully went on to the next person who wanted to say hello.

So… this guy used his one chance of access to Dean to insult him. To me, that was stupid. Now, if Dean remembers the guy, he will try to avoid him. Maybe the guy had a good idea. This was a party at Dean’s house. Couldn’t it wait? The guy should’ve said… “hey, I have some ideas about how to improve the Segway… can I send you some communications in the future about what I think?” He could’ve asked, instead of jumping in and being critical.

You’re in FIRST. Most likely, you can seek out these role models you want to talk do. What will you do? Would you abuse this access and say something foolish, or will you put yourself in a position where these people will look forward to talking to you. How you act in your initial situations of this sort of access will depict the future of how much access you will get in the future to these folks. Whether you are talking to Woodie Flowers, John Abele, or an engineer on another team who may want to hire you in a few years, the impression you make can be a memorable one. It could be good or bad. If it’s good, then your access to these folks will grow. If you are foolish, you will see less opportunities to redeem yourself.

Discuss at will,
Andy B.

Wow, Andy. That is a mouthful of a post. But, a much needed one. I’m willing to bet each and every one of us has at one time or another been in the situation you described and shot ourselves in the foot. I know I have!!

And because I have shot my mouth off occasisonally, I have learned NOT to do it. (On a regular basis, anyway) It is up to us as mentors to teach and pass on to the students the correct way to approach people. Whether they be leaders in politics, business or FIRST.

Last night, John Burns, the tech-ed teacher for Rosie, and I were talking. He related a story to me about a conversation he had had with a future sponosr (we will be adding the company name in about a month) and said one of her heroes was Dean Kamen.

Now, this gal is the Director of a division of a major defense contractor who already supports a number of FIRST teams. John said to her, “Would you like to meet him? He opens his house up to 700 of his closest friends every year at kick-off?” Had he shot himself in the foot by criticizing her company and the weaponary they make for the DOD, 1. Rosie would not have another major sponsor coming on board, 2. her personal goal of not having the chance to meet Dean would not be realized (possibly), 3. she would probably would not look favorable on FIRST teams again.

So, yes, it is VERY important to make good first impressions. It is our duty to convey this lesson to all…

Very recently, I saw the touring company of Wicked perform (twice!) here in Seattle. After the first show, a matinee, my friend Vicky and I went to a restaurant close to the theater for an early dinner. A few minutes after we were seated, there was a giant commotion behind me and I overheard a lot of people saying things like, “you were fantastic,” or, “can I have your autograph?” Naturally, I turned to see what the fuss was about and nearly ran into Sebastian Arcelus, the man who’d played Fiyero in the show. A few minutes later, the rest of the cast joined him.

The point, I suppose, is that it was remarkable to see how the non-FIRST folk treated their celebrities when given what amounts to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with them. They fell apart, nagged them while they were eating dinner and went home with an autograph. What good does that do? It was in sharp contrast to what we see at events where both students and mentors alike have pretty grounded conversations with some folks who can be described only as visionaries.

In Atlanta this season, Woodie Flowers came up to me before a match and engaged me in a conversation. How often do Broadway superstars do that?

This really is something special we’ve got going on here.

The only thing I would like to add to this lovely post is practical. Our role models are practical visionaries. That’s the glue.

I think this highlights the “FI” in FIRST. The “dignitaries” of FIRST don’t come to the events, help teams and provide whatever support they can because they want us to idolize them, put them on a pedestal or give them accolades (although sometimes we do that anyway). They come to inspire us and be inspired by us. They come to share their ideas, knowledge and insights. They come because they were once teenagers who needed a push, or were lucky enough to have someone guide them along the way, and they want to be that push or that guide.

As an adult looking at the interaction between the students and the FIRST “celebrities” you can see how healthy of an exchange it is…respect is shown with enthusiasm, admiration is balanced by approachability, passion is shared equally, and inspiration is alive!

This is a great post. I just finished running a leadership bootcamp for a bunch of my team members a few weeks ago. I had given them homework before the full day camp to read the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I’ve read that book four times now (ok twice on audio), and I always pick up something new or remember something that “doh I should really remember to treat people that way”. And I think that book beautifully compliments Andy’s post here.

If you want to win friends and influence people, its not trickery, salesmanship or any of that that does it. It is honesty, integrity, and my favorite phrase in the book “being hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” (I think that was Abraham Lincoln’s statement if I recal r

The nice thing, is that with FIRST icons/heroes/etc, is that most of them are pretty grounded and dont have enormous egos. They are real people. They arent too good for us (or they wouldnt be here!). So we need to treat them like real people, but with respect for what they do as well. They can choose to be elsewhere, give their money elsewhere, not promote this great program. Appreciation is key.

Also be aware of your own position within FIRST. This will be the third season for 1529 - the second for me. As I walked into the IRI in 2005 (my first event), I had heard these amazing stories and tall tales of these characters (mostly Hoosiers - Mr. Baker, Mr. Fultz, Mrs. Ritchie…) and saw these amazing teams. The Beach Bots blew me away with their design; the Pink Team awed me with their incredible spirit; 1114 was the slickest machine I’d ever seen. When I learned their home states (provinces), I was even more in awe. I knew I was in the presence of legends.
Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers were simply myths - I knew they had some awards named after them or something - but that was about it.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that Andy Baker was this dude I had met at a Kokomo workshop, being relentlessly teased by Hambright about his mullet. Chris Fultz was the lead engineer for 234 - our sister school and mentor team. Legends in my own back yard.
It was then that I realized that my goal is not to build the most efficient and effective robot - it is to build the most efficient and effective team.
Maybe in a couple years down the road, rookie teams will look at the mentors and students on 1529 and say, “Some day, man, some day…” That would mean much more to me than any award or championship.

I love it.

This reminds me of a career project I had to do for school. We had to find someone in our desired field to interview about his or her career. For most kids, finding a robotic engineer to interview is a difficult task, but not for a FIRSTer.
My friend Mike talked to one of our team mentors, and I got in touch with Matt DiCicco, one of MORT’s founding members, who’s currently working at NASA’s JPL and mentoring team IForgettheNumber.
One of the things he told me was how important it is to build a network of individuals in the industry to help you out when you need a contact about employment or other help later in life. In FIRST, there’s a massive network of people like these two who you can tap as resources in the industry. There aren’t many aspiring engineers who can email someone on NASA’s rover project if they have some questions. It’s one of the unique priviledges of FIRST.

Andy, you bring up a very interesting point. I recently attended an ASM camp in Cleveland, and, because it was a sponsored thing, and at Materials park, there were alot of big-time CEO’s, presidents, etc., especially at our graduation. Talking to people there, I was reminded of FIRST concerning the ranks of the people in attendance, but I was surprised at the sort of stigma surrounding us. We still were talked to, and heard some stories, but with the exception of our mentors, we were talked down to and entertained rather than conversed.

This was a bit of a shock to me, because at regionals, and especially Championships, anyone and everyone was not only accessable, but open. In one day, I talked to not only you Andy, but several other team mentors, college students, engineers, and a the guy heading the GM tent. Not only talked to him, but learned he was an old mentor of 67, that he got them their Hummer, and gave my friend his card!

The FIRST community has, as you said, made themselves available, but also extremely candid. In our little world, anyone is game, and everyone is friendly. FIRST is a sort of universal common ground, where anyone can converse who’s involved or interested. The results are always exciting.

When your team comes to an FRC event, you are not just some kid hoping for a glimpse of your hero. You’re a competitor, with experience behind you and some impressive stuff of your own to show. It’s only natural that Dave, Woody, Dean, and all the mentors you meet are going to be open to talking with you. Their interests are not simply benevolent, but also selfish. They give an enormous amount, and they get something back, too.

It can make you feel good to give some time to people who need help; however, that feeling is weak compared with some others I’ve experienced. Every teacher knows an even better feeling: seeing the light come on in a student’s eyes in the magic instant of a new insight.

But there is a better feeling still. It happens when someone who has learned from you returns the favor by independently finding something new, and then sharing it. This is the coolest reward you can get, better than wealth, praise, fame, or anything else. Stay with FIRST for a little while and you’ll see it for yourself.

Firstly ill start off saying that all of the previous posts have been excellent and they all prove Andy’s point.

I too like how open the FIRST community is on the appreciation of the higher knowledge level of these “FIRST idols” like; Andy Baker, Paul C, Raul, Karthik and many others. I have had a few chances to talk to Andy Baker about robotics and other things in general. It has always been a great conversation. The first time i was told that i would be able to meet him, i was excited and couldn’t wait. The first time was when Mr. Baker and Mr. Koors visited Rochester for the R3 competition. I had a great time and the knowledge level of the two of them is phenomenal. I also found myself thinking, what would i say to start off the conversation and what’s some topics would spark an intelligent conversation with the two of them.

I remember one other thing from R3, as we were in the pits fixing the robot as usual, these two little kids came up to Greg N. and asked for his autograph, i remember this solely because he told me shortly afterwords that he was amazed at the kids wanted his autograph and all. As i saw him talking to the kids, they were very excited and amazed at what the robot did and how well it looked, also Greg was basically melting because he was so happy to make a kids day. I too have had that feeling to me recently and it feels great. Gets me thinking possibly being a teacher later in life.

One other thing i love is how the “Top FIRSTers”; Dean, Woodie and such come up to others like M. Krass and start a conversation just like any other person would do. It would be an amazing feeling to have them choose to talk to you other then the other hundereds of people and it’s a great feeling.

I may have posted this story after Atlanta last year, but I don’t remember. Woodie Flowers’ “minder” was Susan Lawrence - she got to be the “bad guy” who interrupted conversations, pushed him along, etc. to get him where he had to be on time. Woodie had spoken to several of our team members on Friday, and Devin was just ecstatic, going on and on about how he was never going to wash the hand that shook Woodie’s.

Early Saturday morning I had cause to find Susan to ask her about a problem, and of course she was near Woodie. He was talking to someone, so I talked to Susan. After his conversation was finished, I mentioned how much our team members appreciated their conversation the day before, and mentioned the “never wash” comment. Woodie was genuinely confounded why he got placed on such a pedestal - but if kids had to have a role model and hero, it certainly was better than many other choices they could have made.

Later I got to rib Devin of how I got to shake Woodie’s hand on Einstein.

Actually Maddie, I made a pretty good fool of myself at UTC when I met Woodie (see who am I pic for my stupid grin). But otherwise I’m usually pretty good, I even managed to not drool on Andy Baker or Chris Hibner… At least not much :slight_smile:

And I can personally attest to shooting myself in the foot in 2003 when I became convinced the engineers from the company interested in sponsoring us couldn’t possibly know more about sensor coding then me, Still living that one down.

So, how does one learn/grow from that Matt? How can we help students grow in this area?

I’ll never forget…

…the look on the faces of the two kids who had a few minutes of conversation with Dave Lavery at the ‘Iron Fever’ expo in York, PA.

…the excitement of the mom whose two sons had just talked to Dean about their experiences with our team and their plans for the future.

…the young engineer who credits FIRST with changing his life.

And this is only a very small part of it all. The Inspiration is definitely happening!

Yes, I am still cringing about standing in awe in the “end zone” of the playing field at UTC (my first time ever being on any playing field) and having Woodie come up and ask me “Well, what do you think?” I said something about I thought everything was going well, I had some concerns about the bleachers, but… and then realizing later on he was referring to how the game was being played out. My one chance to talk to a legend and I blew it, thinking like a NEM! :o

You are right, Kim, and there is one thing I know we can all do better with each other… I receive a lot of e-mails and PMs on Chief Delphi. I have been at FIRST events where people have come up to me and greeted me and started a conversation with me and to be honest, I have no idea who the person is! It’s embarassing to me, and even if you tell me your name, I still might not be able to place you. It’s respectful when approaching someone to introduce yourself and place yourself into a context the other person might know, “Hi, I’m Kathie from NEMO, the Non-Engineering Mentor Organization. I’m ‘KathieK’ on Chief Delphi and we exchanged some e-mails a while ago about your team merging with another high school. How did that go?” or “Hi, you don’t know me, I’m Kathie Kentfield. I’ve been a volunteer with FIRST for 6 years. I just wanted to introduce myself and say hello.” And our custom (here in the U.S. anyway) is to shake another person’s hand when being introduced; learn how to look someone in the eye and offer a nice (not too strong, not too wimpy) handshake. If you’re an introvert like me, it takes practice. Practice it with your fellow team members. I know of a team that did this and when I met them, every student addressed me with respect and a handshake and a proper introduction. That impressed me!

First thoughts of post: Sticky this, so people can see what joining FIRST can do beyond the robot, like most great things in life, FIRST is a much deeper thing then when you first look at it. If you’ve been involved for awhile, remember the first time you heard about FIRST, now look how far you’ve come, 5 bucks you never though that would ever happen to you.

The example that Andy used at the end of his post with the mentor talking to Dean about the Segway is another example of what FIRST preaches at competition (and all too often people tune out), Gracious Professionalism. As you can see the mentor did not use their GP, and Dean did.

All the pages that there on FIRST’s website that most of us don’t read, like the About FIRST Page, Impact Page, about: FRC, FLL, as well as keynote speeches at events, all say something in common. FIRST teaches people more than just how to compete, and there are too many things to list.

Thanks FIRST
Congrat’s FIRST

I agree. FIRST has not just made kids into engineers [which it’s done an AMAZING job of, by the way], but it’s helped a good majority of us become better people as a whole. The entire process of becoming a team, starting with getting sponsors, teaches students to think before they act or speak.

Yet another reason i absolutely love this organization. It’s not about the celebrities [although Dean, Woodie, Lavery, and all the others who make FIRST possible are AWESOME], or even the actual competition, it’s about becoming a responsible, smart, and graciously professional person.

in short, i <3 FIRST for everything it teaches us.

When one finally realizes the full impact of FIRST, one can’t but help feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

We are not perfect, and we understand that. Yet we make every attempt we can to put aside our personal differences to come together, to create, to recognize, to inspire. Knowledge is openly and willingly shared, rather than secretly obscured and muddled. We’ve found a way to eliminate the seemingly instinctual habit to form a “caste system” of society; for in FIRST everyone is on the same playing field (no pun intended).

In FIRST, we’ve been able to push aside many of our negative instincts while embracing the positive. Next time you are in Atlanta for the Championships, stop and take a moment and just observe everything. Here are people from all over the world, who have never met prior to this event, yet they are as kind and benevolent as lifelong friends. If our future scientists, engineers, and leaders are in FIRST right now, then our future is a bright one indeed.

These students will graduate, move on, and settle down into a life of their own. There will always be something inside them, something that humbles them to think that they were part of something as great and amazing as FIRST. You can take people away from FIRST, but you can never take the FIRST away from them.