Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Team To Cheer For

So, I realize that in the interest of privacy and discretion, I have been omitting the foremost subject-activity currently dominating our lives... especially Alex and Geoff's. Everyday since the start of the year, Alex has made his way over to robot club at a local high school, where he has been part of team preparing to compete in Regional Events, called "Lunacy." The high school club, founded and run by students, is part of FIRST.

FIRST was started by Dean Kamen, and his vision goes like this: "To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes." You might know who Dean Kamen is by what he has accomplished... have you heard of Segway or how about iBOT? Amazing guy, and an amazing phenomenon, FIRST.

Alex is not a student at the campus where he participates. We are trying to remedy this, and hopefully we will know, soon, whether his name has been drawn in their annual lottery (a small prayer, please!) When he joined the club in the Fall he learned that they were reluctant to include an outsider, and a freshman, but he has since proven himself to be a worthy, and dedicated team player. He is a designer, and along the way he has learned building skills, wiring and how to navigate the political waters of an experienced 50 member robotics team. It has been an extraordinary experience for him.

When I say "build" I mean actually make parts. Some teams purchase parts, or rely on adult mentors and sponsors to do the heavy lifting. Team PO has terrific mentors and parent volunteers, but direction, design, construction, programming and assembly falls mainly on the shoulders of those very creative and industrious students. They are welding, wiring, grinding, shaping, tooling and configuring the robot from their own plans and designs and with the specifications put to them by FIRST 6 weeks ago. So, while Alex came with his own robot building experience, he has definitely gained new skills and knowledge.

Besides making a robot, the teams have to demonstrate Gracious Professionalism. Awe inspiring stuff, truly. Here's what the link provided leads to...

Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the term "Gracious Professionalism."

Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.

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.

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."

I love this. And from all I have witnessed the words are not empty sentimentality. Being in the company of these students, their teachers and mentors, the parent volunteers, is a pleasure. They are projecting enthusiasm and intelligence, and interest in cooperatively producing their best, in robotics, marketing and Gracious Professionalism and though the work is hard, they make it look easy, natural. This natural exuberance and intelligence energizes their space and inspires hope and optimism.

Speaking of energizing space... I think they could use a boost of energy right about now. They have not had a day off in 6 weeks and the nights are getting longer and l o n g e r. I know they worked all day yesterday and didn't quit until about 6:30 AM, and they are back at it now. Geoff is a parent volunteer and mentor. I think his day job has begun to go in to testing (industry talk for "the hard part is over,") but I cannot tell the difference since he has seamlessly (though exhaustedly) left one all consuming job for another. On Monday they have to pack and ship the finished robot and they will be reunited when they compete in San Diego, then again in Phoenix.

Okay. So time for me to go. Geoff is mentoring the programmers and Alex just woke up, so I gotta get him over there. Later today they may, hopefully-fingers crossed, get to test their robot in San Diego. Go Team Parrot-Ox!!


mtnchild said...

To have Alex be one of the leaders of tomorrow makes my heart go thumpity-thump!

Through his activities and inspirational family, I can again hope that we folks who will depend on the current younger generation for our care in the future can rejoice in knowing that Alex and fellow FIRST members stand tall in Gracious Professionalism.

Was that a mouthful or what?? LOL

Way to go Alex & Jeff!


judy in ky said...

This is SO cool! Please keep us posted.

d.a. said...

Ditto what judy in ky said... yay, Alex!

Tami @ Lemon Tree Tales said...

Wow what an exciting group for Alex to be in! And big kudos to you Natalie for making this a reality for him. Great job mama!!!

Gracious professionalism, what a nice concept. :-)

warren said...

Very cool...and inspiring that science still happens in the US!

Jennifer said...

We are in total and complete awe -- and hoping he does get into that school!!!

Tracy said...

That is VERY exciting! Keep us posted, Natalie...Sooo impressive! Happy Days ((HUGS))

village mama said...

Good luck!!!

nikkipolani said...

Oh, Natalie, this is phenomenal! I'm so impressed that a team like this exists to encourage and train young people and take their skills to the limit. No wonder you are proud.

dewatobay said...

SO Encouraging to learn of such projects! So wonderful that mothers like you are supportive also!