This post is a follow-up to my last entry, about what we don't want to tell the kids.
It's easy to get discouraged about the state of education in our country, to worry over the future of our economy and wring our hands about the lack of good opportunities for our children. In fact, I do that ... pretty much every day.
But then I happened to run across a clip about Dean L. Kamen and a non-profit organization he runs called "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," more widely known as FIRST. Kamen founded FIRST in 1989, with a mission to motivate young people "to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills."
Kamen himself is an entrepreneur and inventor, most famous for creating the two-wheeled personal electrical vehicle known as the Segway. But he owns more than 400 patents, and has invented a number of significant medical devices, including an insulin pump, the first wearable infusion pump, a dialysis system, and a prosthetic arm. Kamen is also president of DEKA Research and Development Corp., which builds out its own devices and provides research and development functions for major U.S. corporations.
The primary program sponsored by FIRST is the annual robotic competition. It's run like a competitive sports event. It begins in October with over 200,000 high school kids from all around the U.S. and elsewhere designing and building robots, within specific "rules of the game," to perform certain prescribed tasks. The kids work in teams and submit their entries at regional events. The projects are judged, and then in the spring the finalists converge to compete for prizes and college scholarships at the annual Championship Event. In 2012 the finals will be held in St. Louis, from April 25 to 28.
Kamen decries our country's current focus on sports and entertainment, and encourages young people to ignore media personalities, and instead emulate our real superstars in science and technology. The only difference between his Championship Event and all the other sports contests, he says, is that "every kid on our teams can turn pro -- there's a job out there for every one of these kids."
Of course, FIRST is not the only program encouraging young people to develop their skills and create a future for themselves. And a program like this is not going to help our current field of 20-somethings (although you might keep it in mind for your grandchildren). But it is one inspiring example of people actually doing something positive to secure the future of our young people, the future of America.
Here is actor Morgan Freeman talking about the FIRST program: