Gracious Professionalism and The Goals of FIRST

These past two weeks, I have been getting excited in preparation for our upcoming qualifier. Unlike any I have been to thus far, we will not be competing and will instead be helping out with the volunteer work. This will be a really fun experience because I will be able to watch and enjoy what’s happening without the pressure that comes with the competition. I will also have the chance to learn from other teams and take pictures of robots that I think are interesting; not to mention that I get a free shirt for volunteering.

Originally, our plan was that my team, the CougarBots, was going to be doing the volunteer work as judge assistants, match starters, and queue-rs, while the CougarBytes would be competing and trying to qualify for the state competition. This was our plan – until last December when my team qualified for state at the Winthrop competition. Since we were able to qualify before our own qualifier, both teams were guaranteed a bid to state – the CougarBots taking our bid from Winthrop, and the CougarBytes taking our hosting team bid (all hosting teams get one free bid to state). With both teams already on our way to state, the CougarBytes had less pressure to win a bid at our own qualifier and would be competing to gain practice.

This made everything much easier and less stressful for both teams, and I was on board with the plan the way things were. That’s when the CougarBytes recognized an opportunity to repay a debt and to display Gracious Professionalism. At the Winthrop qualifier, the Jefferson High School team, The Who, competed against us in the finals. We had won the first round and they had won the second round, making the finals all the more climactic. At that time, we were trying to fix something on our robot before going into the third and final round, but it was taking too long to fix. We had already used our only time-out, so, being the gracious team they are, The Who offered us the opportunity to use their time-out so that we could fix our robot. We took their offer and were able to get our robot in mostly working order. In the final round, the score came to 133 – 134; we won the match by a single point.
Despite the fact that The Who had been rightfully gracious by giving us their timeout, we were the ones who would be going to state.
So, in response to this gracious act, the CougarBytes decided that since our win had been a win for them also (by extension), that they too were in debt to the Who, and that it would be Gracious to offer them their place in our qualifier. Although it would not be a guaranteed bid to state, it would be a great opportunity for them and could potentially send them to state.

This whole situation reminded me that I have yet to discuss Gracious Professionalism (“GP”) and how important it is in the FIRST programs. This idea of Gracious Professionalism is exemplified in the example above. In FIRST competitions, we want the winners to be those that are model teams; those that other teams look to and think “we should try to be more like them”. GP is a guideline by which FIRST is built around and it promotes teamwork between the teams. The idea can be most simply described as winning – not at all costs. GP is not only a good principle to have in our program, but it is also a necessary skill that engineering companies want to see in their workers. Though most companies want the best and the brightest, their attempts to get these individuals will be for nothing if they cannot get these people to get along with each other and cooperate on team projects. The Ethos that FIRST teaches its students is a critical life skill that should be learned by all. Employers will be (and are) seeking graduates of FIRST programs who took this concept of Gracious Professionalism to heart. This applies to all employers – not just in engineering – but across the board.

This video describes GP from the point of view of one of FIRST’s more well known advocates, and the mentor of FRC team 116, Dave Lavery.

[Update: At Saturday’s qualifier, The Who won in the final matches as the first place alliance captain and will be advancing to state. Way to go guys!] – 1/22/2014

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