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FIRST Robotics/The New Cool

March 5, 2012


We are investing in the future in a big way with sponsorship of FIRST Robotics program at FedEx.  For the past ten years, FedEx has been supporting the teams across the nation and world with donated shipping.  It is the second largest charitable shipping program which we sponsor.  

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.  The founder, Dean Kamen, is an entrepreneur and inventor striving to make a difference in the future of our country.  Our Vision: “…to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” Dean Kamen, Founder.

An excellent introduction to FIRST, from the jacket of The New Cool by Neal Bascomb:

That Monday afternoon, in high school gyms across the country, kids were battling for the only glory American culture seems to want to dispense these days: sports glory.  But at the engineering academy at Dos Pueblos High School in Goeta, California, in a gear-cluttered classroom, a different type of “cool” was brewing.  A physics teacher with a dream, the first high school teacher ever to win a MacArthur genius award – had rounded up a band of high I.Q. students who wanted to put their technical know-how to work.  If you asked these brainiacs what the stakes were that first week of their project, they’d have told you it was all about winning a robotics competition; building the ultimate robot and prevailing in a machine-to-machine contest in front of twenty-five thousand screaming fans at the championship event.

For their mentor, Amir Abo-Schaeer, much more hung in the balance.  Amir had a vision for education that was based not on rote learning – on absorbing facts and figures – but on active creation.  In his mind’s eye, he saw an even more robust academy at Dos Pueblos that would make science , technology, engineering and math (STEM) cool again, and he knew he was poised to make that dream a reality.  To get the necessary funding all he needed was one flashy win – a triumph that would firmly put his engineering academy on the map.  He imagined that one day there would be a nation filled with such academies, and a new popular veneration for STEM – a “New Cool” that would return America to its former innovative glory.

It was a dream shared by Dean Kamen, a modern-day inventing wizard, – often called “the Edison of his time” – who had concocted the FIRST Robotics Competition that had lured the kids at Dos Pueblos.  Kamen had created FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) nearly twenty years earlier, and now with an alumni base of one million participants, he felt that awareness was about to hit critical mass.

But before the Dos Pueblos D’Penguineers could do their part in bringing a new cool to America, they’d have to vanquish an intimidating lineup of “superteams” – high school goliaths that hailed from emerging hot spots like the Silicon Valley, Massachusetts’s Route 128 technology corridor, and Michigan’s auto design belt.  Some of these teams were so good that winning wasn’t just hoped for, it was expected.

In The New Cool, Neal Bascomb manages to make even those who know little about – or are vaguely suspicious of – technology care passionately about a team of kids questing after a different kind of glory.  In these kids’ heartaches and headaches – and yes, high-five triumphs – we glimpse the path not just to a new way of educating our youth but of honoring the crucial skills a society needs to prosper.  A New Cool.


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