Inspiring Minds

An inventor’s greatest legacy could be leading the next-generation of geniuses.


Dean Kamen doesn’t pursue an idea unless people say he’s crazy. Without this challenge this American inventor and entrepreneur may never have pursued his many engineering accomplishments, including: HomeChoice, the portable home dialysis machine; the iBOT mobility wheelchair that can rise to six feet tall or “walk” up stairs; the two-wheeled, self-balancing Segway human transporter; and the prosthetic arm, developed for DARPA, that has fine motor control and will advance the quality of life for soldiers who have lost one or both of their arms fighting for the safety and security of this country.

Kamen has hundreds of patents, but his greatest legacy could be the cultural transformation he’s leading as he develops the next-generation of geniuses. He is mobilizing the masses from academia to manufacturing and even the President of the United States, to re-examine our own current situation and the country’s future. That’s the basis behind For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), which Kamen founded in 1989, using robotics as a way to introduce science and technology to young minds in fun, creative ways. What started as a grassroots competition with a small group of kids working together to dream up, design and build robots, has evolved into a global competition spanning 86 countries and 46,000 teams. The kids are mentored by engineering superstars who are there to encourage and inspire new career goals.

“Kids will do fine in this world and will get good at anything that adult role models make them feel is important,” Kamen said. “That’s why there’s no shortage of entertainers and ball bouncers.” Kamen is referring to the fact that as a society we celebrate Oscar-winning actors and professional athletes. “Every year I [say to] the President, let’s celebrate science and technology [professionals], they deserve the same recognition as people who are good at bouncing a ball.” The difference is that the FIRST kids grow up to create a better quality of life and standard of living. “The world needs to make heroes out of the right people.”

Research shows that kids participating in the FIRST program are 50 percent more likely to attend college and three times more likely to major in engineering. In addition, 30 percent of the FIRST team members are females and minorities. These FIRST alumni are four times more likely to pursue technology or engineering majors.

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