FIRST's mission is to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership. Based in Manchester, NH, the 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit public charity designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.
Gracious Professionalism, a term coined by FIRST National Advisor Dr. Woodie Flowers, is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a method of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, or "GP", fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete madly, but treat one another with respect and kindness simultaneously. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended. In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has acted with integrity and sensitivity.
Coopertition™, another FIRST value, produces innovation. At FIRST, Coopertition is displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition. Coopertition is founded on the concept and a philosophy that teams can and should help and cooperate with each other even as they compete. Coopertition involves learning from teammates, and teaching teammates. It is learning from mentors. And it is managing, and being managed. Coopertition means always competing, but at the same time assisting and enabling others when you can.
FIRST was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an inventor, an entrepreneur, and a tireless advocate for science and technology. Kamen has received many awards for his efforts, but considers his founding of FIRST one of his proudest accomplishments. As an inventor, he holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide. He founded DEKA Research & Development Corporation to develop internally generated inventions as well as to provide research and development for major corporate clients, and now serves as its president. But his roles as inventor and advocate are intertwined—his own passion for technology and its practical uses has driven his personal determination to spread the word about technology's virtues and by so doing to change the culture of the United States, and this same enthusiasm, fervor and dedication to help young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology are the cornerstones of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
After starting FIRST, Kamen was joined by Dr. Woodie Flowers, the Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Distinguished Partner at Olin College. Dr. Flowers helped create MIT's renowned course "Introduction to Design.", and is currently a director of three companies. Dr. Flowers has served as a National Advisor to FIRST since the inception of the FIRST Robotics Competition, and participates in the design of the FIRST Robotics Competition game each year.
FIRST's leadership later expanded to include more members, such as Walter P. Havenstein, chairman of the board of directors of FIRST®, who joined Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as chief executive officer on September 21, 2009 and is also a member of SAIC's board of directors. Prior to joining SAIC, Havenstein served as chief operating officer and member of the board of directors for BAE Systems plc, a $34 billion global aerospace and defense company; and as president and chief executive officer of BAE Systems Inc., the company's wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, which also happens to sponsor various FIRST teams.
FIRST has steadily grown since its founding to attract the attention of many science and technology corporations, including Autodesk, Chrysler, General Motors, Johnson and Johnson, Motorola, NASA, National Instruments, Boeing, PTC, Microsoft, Andymark, Google, BAE Systems, Lego, Vex, and Texas Instruments, just to name a few, many of which they have partnered with to provide FIRST teams with the supplies they need without industry-level costs. They have also formed strategic alliances with other organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories, the Society of Women Engineers, and the 'Connect a Million Minds' initiative by Time Warner Cable in their ongoing effort and commitment to sustaining key programs that 'ignite young minds.' FIRST is always seeking synergistic relationships with organizations that evangelize and promote career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), in grades K through 12, or are looking for significant Mentor/Coach opportunities for their memberships.
Finally, for the 2011 Kickoff, FIRST reeled in noted music artist will.i.am, known for his work with the Black Eyed Peas and in the film Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and author Neal Bascomb, who wrote The New Cool detailing an FRC team. Both guests reflect the scope to which FIRST has expanded and continues to expand, instilling students and mentors alike with the same love for science and technology that fueled the development of FIRST and continues to drive FIRST teams worldwide, propelling them to ever greater heights of achievement and innovation.