Inventor and technology visionary Dean Kamen kept things in perspective in a special presentation at National Manufacturing Week in March. In a talk about the development of the Segway Human Transporter (see DN 3.25.2002, p. 52), he told listeners they would have to "sing for their supper" by hearing about a program he values highly—FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).
The program aims to inspire precollege students to have an appreciation of science and technology, and to learn that mastering these enriches the lives of all of us. FIRST designs technology competition programs to build self confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue careers in technology—all while showing technology can be rewarding, relevant, and fun. Industry volunteers work with student teams to develop robots for local and regional competitions, culminating in the national finals each year at Disney's Epcot Center. This year these were held at the end of April. The event also featured presentation of three Segways to winning bidders in an Amazon.com auction, which raised $364,700 for FIRST.
Role models. "To give kids a passion to do something," Kamen said, is the inspiration for FIRST. "Sports give them a passion. We need a 'Michael Jordan model' for technology. While engineers get an A for creating our standard of living, in social responsibility they get a D or C. We can't say we are too busy. In sports, kids see super people, the best of the best, happy, smiling and making money—thus they want to identify with athletes. We have to show that engineers [including women] love what they do, and make a good living—and get that in front of kids," he added.
Kamen called on technology companies to investigate working with FIRST to get into the schools to showcase the "Michael Jordans" in their companies who can then serve as role models for students. "It's not an educational problem, but a cultural problem," Kamen told the engineering audience. "We can't leave it to the entertainers, sports stars, or lawyers, to bring our culture back to where it's supposed to be—it's your job!"
Commenting on the Segway project, Kamen, a former Design News Engineer of the Year, highlighted the business arrangements that made it possible for his small company, DEKA Re-search and Development Corp. (Manchester NH), to partner with bigger firms to obtain the reliable technology needed for realizing the transporter. DEKA wanted to make sure it kept its hand in the project to bring about the production vehicle—not its usual arrangement of turning over production, once an idea was developed, to a firm with the capacity to mass-produce it. "You can find ways to work with small companies," Kamen told the audience. "What's good about a big company is great, and what's good about a small company is great," he concluded—and coupling them is even better.
For more information visit www.usfirst.org, or call (800) 871-8326.