FIRST: A Step Towards Innovation & Teamwork

I am pleased to announce that INTEGRIS’ Jeff DeHeer is our guest blogger for today with a great article on his involvement in FIRST, an organization that helps young people develop and compete in a robotics competition.  We are proud to have Jeff as a part of our team here at INTEGRIS, and even more proud that he is part of such an awesome organization!  The following is what Jeff has to say about his excitement about being involved in FIRST.  Enjoy!


Being an engineer is exciting and rewarding.  Those moments when digging into an issue, exploring the science, applying the science to the real world, and solving the problem successfully are the moments engineers live for.  As rewarding as those experiences are for a practicing engineer, it is that much more rewarding to participate and be witness to that experience in young people interested in science, mathematics, and general nerdery.

Think back to a time in your life when someone took the time to teach you a new skill, outside of the traditional classroom setting.  Remember how empowered you felt, how good it felt to have someone invest their time in you?  FIRST ( is an organization founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen that offers young people the opportunity to engage in a ‘sport for the mind’  having ‘the hardest fun you’ll ever have’.  FIRST also offers adults the opportunity to mentor and teach the next generation of dreamers, inventors, leaders, and workers.  The beauty of the program is that it starts with students as young as Kindergarten and continues with programs until graduation from high school.  Through all age groups, the mission of FIRST is the same:

“Our mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, 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.”

Too often, we see competitions bring out the worst in people, ranging from laughter at failure, booing the opposition, to obnoxious parents/spectators on the sidelines.   Competition is a fact of life.  It is present in our professional and personal lives.  FIRST centers around two principles that teach students (and mentors) how to compete and cooperate in a professional, yet fiercely competitive, environment.  Below are explanations of each:

Gracious Professionalism®

“With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are comfortably blended.”


“Coopertition® 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. It is teaching teammates. It is learning from Mentors. And it is managing and being managed. Coopertition means competing always, but assisting and enabling others when you can.”

My experience is with the high school level of First Robotics Challenge (FRC).  Each year, high school aged teams around the world are given 6 weeks to design, troubleshoot, and build a robot to compete in a game.  The games change from year to year, keeping the design challenges fresh and exciting.  For 6 weeks, teams around the world spend untold hours after school and on weekends designing and building a robot.  At the end of the 6 weeks, the robot is sealed up until competition.  Just imagine: 30 or more high school aged kids, some who have never used a wrench or seen a drill press, trying to design and build a complex machine to perform a multitude of tasks, write software to control the robot (both autonomously and by human control), and get all the various parts to work together, all in only 6 weeks.  This is where the mentors come in.  We have professional experience in time critical situations every day.  We have the opportunity to build relationships with these students, guide them, assist them, mentor them, and help them succeed.  During the 6 week build season, mentors help students learn new skills or use existing skills in new ways.  The students learn so much more than just how to fabricate, wire, or program a robot, they also learn time management, problem-solving, how to overcome setbacks and frustrations, and how to work in a team towards a common goal.

With the huge push towards STEM education, the FIRST programs are a perfect melting pot of and application for STEM.  The build season requires skills in communication, science, mathematics, budgeting, planning, design, fabrication, and troubleshooting.  It offers students an opportunity to see what they learn in separate classrooms applied to a single project in a more open setting than a typical classroom.  It is ‘real world’ application of what they learn in school.

The icing on the FRC cake is the competition season.  Going to these events is such a celebration of ingenuity, creativity, hard work, and all around nerd-dom.  Picture, if you will, over 1000 high school students, mentors, and coaches, still frazzled from the 6 week chaos of build season, spending 3 days competing for the right to advance to the next round of competition.  It is loud, it is organized chaos, and it is thrilling!  Witnessing the excitement and passion of the students as they compete and help other teams is contagious!  Watching the various teams exemplify Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® is an inspiration and gives us great hope for the future.

At the end of competition season, the robots all return to their home shop to be dismantled and recycled for next year or kept alive and running for demonstrations in the off-season.  Teams often use this time to analyze their performance, discuss improvements for next year, prototype new concepts, or just rest up before the chaos of next build-season  starts all over again!

FIRST has built a program that offers students a safe environment in which to try, to fail, to learn, to win, and to grow.  Being a mentor for a FIRST team offers a way to teach and train the next generation of dreamers, inventors, leaders, and workers how to make a positive difference in the world.

“I am one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

~Edward E. Hale

Jeff DeHeer has been a mentor since 2010 for FIRST Team 2040 (  For more information on FIRST, schools that have FIRST programs, or how to become a mentor, please visit


Pretty awesome stuff, right? We think so too!  Again, we here at INTEGRIS are proud to have Jeff as part of our team and we look forward to more awesome updates from his involvement in the organization!  And don’t worry, we will keep you updated too!

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