[FRC Blog] 2021 Season Finale!

I feel this is a necessary disclaimer:
I know nothing about the current processes at HQ, I haven’t been ‘in the circle’ since my 2012 internship. Despite the name on my driver’s license I am as far out of the loop as I could possibly be. Everything in this post is my personal opinion as a participant, I have no secret insight, nor do I want any.

I don’t think Dean actually picks the “homework” anymore. I think FIRST HQ, likely Marketing/Development, picks a goal and frames it as the classic “Dean Homework” that we once knew. But I agree, I’m not a big fan of this messaging shift. It feels MLM-salesy now, rather than authentic to the community.

My guess; Either the ‘assignment’ starts as a Dean idea and gets marketing-copy-reviewed into oblivion, or HQ is putting a set of scripted talking points in his hands (or, in this case - his name on a blog post segment he definitely didn’t write). For example - yes, the coin is a passion project of his from years and years ago, but the recent few years of messaging around sponsors, supporters, and initiatives seem so very corporate instead of passion-based.

To put it differently - your example of the "cult like’ writing still says - grow your team, involve your community - but has a much more direct and specific call-to-action in how the sentence is written. “Involve your community by pressuring local businesses into funding us”, to use your words. “Get others excited about STEM by posting, emailing, talking about, and buying the Christa McAuliffe coin.” It’s intentional and direct wording rather than simply the baseline emotional concept.

The intent isn’t bad, but the way it’s phrased makes me feel more like a recipient of the organization’s newsletter bulletins rather than a member of the community and part of the mission. But I think it’s HQ overall, not solely Dean, responsible for that shift. (edit: BUT! Because it’s coming out of Dean’s mouth, or credited in his ‘writing’ - it reflects on him, not necessarily the org. Which isn’t great either.)

TL;DR - I agree, but I don’t necessarily think it is only Dean’s choice or even his knowledge that the shift has been this intense. Sorry for the wall of text - as a community manager by trade, I’m VERY passionate about messaging and tone to organizations & their followers. Whoopsie.


I’ve got a spare walker in the garage if you want it…


I think you’re right, and I don’t mean to sound like I’m directly accusing Dean of doing all of this. Over the past few years, the “corporatization” of HQ combined with me getting older has changed how I view FIRST as an organization, and it doesn’t feel right to me. I know there are good people at the company who are here for the right reasons and are trying to do the right things, but through messaging and certain decisions made over the years, I feel less and less like HQ cares about the teams and the participants in its program, and that feeling kinda sucks.

I don’t mean to go all CD boomer “back in my day”, but I remember my first kickoff in freshman year of high school, where it felt like the message was “Hey students, you are amazing for being here, you are capable of doing anything you can dream of, and you’re gonna do the coolest things when you grow up”. It made me excited to be in the program and I felt like this FIRST organization valued and cared about me as a person. These days kickoff just seems to be showing off sponsors and hyping up FIRST. Again I’m sure a large part of this perspective shift is me getting older, but it really does feel like the people passionate about the mission have been replaced with marketing people and accountants sometimes, and it can be discouraging.


Dean’s “homework” started losing its impact on me when they started repeating homework assignments. There’s only so many different ways to you can phrase the same missions before it gets repetitive.


Big agree here. (And don’t worry, I didn’t respond that way because I thought you were accusing anyone of anything! Just adding some thoughts to the pile.)

Could not agree more. I see the same thing at Kickoff, Championship, and even on their baseline social media posts. I always blame it on myself getting older, the rose-colored glasses or the kool-aid wearing off, etc… but when it comes down to it, they’ve made a shift in their communications plan that prioritizes sponsors and PR over the community we’ve cultivated as participants. If that’s what they think works for them, great, more power to 'em - but from a participant standpoint as well as professionally, I don’t think it’s creating the kind of growth they intend.


When did this coin stuff start? Haven’t we been “assigned” this every year since 2018, maybe earlier?

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2019 – 2018’s notable speech was the beer thing


My first year in FIRST was 2011, when WILL.I.AM was at kick off.

Dean’s HW that year was to always say “FIRST” when discussing the competition. Seemed he was miffed that the name wasn’t getting associated with HS robotics as much as he’d have liked. Very much a brand consciousness move, and not very inspiring.


Tbh it’s a pretty dumb name if you want people to understand and remember it
If your robotics backronitialism sounds like another part of a sentence maybe it’s time to rethink that.

I remember the first time the coin came up as Dean’s homework (2016?) and having a sort of “wut?” moment. Once the additional revenue thing came up -and how blatantly it was presented- I wanted a refund for the time we could have spent packing the pit. It came off incredibly poorly to anyone familiar with the homeworks that weren’t as slaughtered by committee.


I feel like it was a part of the hours-lengthy Houston 2017 finals, but my memory on that is fading.

I agree the “buy these things” bit is pretty new, but “start many rookies” and “pressure local business, friends, and family” has been a part of the homework for as long as I’ve been a part of FRC (rookie in 2004). I feel like the “government” bit was added later, but probably still when I was a student (I was going to guess 2007, but I searched some old threads and believe it was actually 2005!!).

The same words sound different when you have more perspective to ponder them with.

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The government one IMO had its biggest impact when our Governor, Linda Lingle, spoke at Kickoff in 2007. Later that year, IIRC, Dean Kamen came to Hawaii to speak on the importance of STEM. Bill Miller, also came to a STEM conference here not too long after.

She is the biggest reason Hawaii started its own regional and had as many as 30+ teams.
I think that assignment from Dean had the largest impact ever.


I remember her being at the 2008 Hawaii Regional. She seemed very enthusiastic for FIRST.

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She very much enjoyed it and talked about being excited to attend, in her State of the State address during Build Season January 2018 after being re-elected.

As much as teams can have amazing impact in their community (as noted by teams in their Chairman’s Award pursuits), I saw and learned first hand that a Governor’s reach is so much more powerful, if its on their agenda. I’ll never forget how much she went to bat for us throughout her tenure.


Spare walkers make for good robot parts.

Does anyone have predictions, guesses, etc. for the big awards? I’ve been very impressed with the Innovation Challenge results so far, and would love to hear anyone’s thoughts

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Somehow I missed that thread, gonna go hang my head in shame for not searching first haha


Hey, this year international teams can somewhat kind of participate in Dean’s homework…

… which they should be able to do every year, but I digress.

Excited for tomorrow’s broadcast nonethless!


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