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Gracious Professionalism

Gracious Professionalism is the embodiment of the FIRST philosophy. It is how we should strive to act, whether we are being watched or not, and in a way that would make our grandmothers proud. It has long been part of the history of FIRST, and was codified in the 2004 manual.

“Gracious professionals make a valued contribution in a manner pleasing to others and to themselves. In FIRST, one of the most straightforward interpretations of gracious professionalism is that we learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. We try to avoid leaving anyone feeling like they are losers. No chest thumping barbarian tough talk, but no sticky sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, pride and empathy comfortably blended…. In the long run, gracious professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life.”

How does one act “graciously professional?” Common sense goes a long way toward this. Act like you would want others to act. Help others out as often as you can. Be gracious, but at the same time, be professional. For instance, booing would obviously not be graciously professional, but at the same time saying “everyone is a winner” would be just as much so. It’s all about healthy competition, or “co-opetition.” Being graciously professional can include helping out a team, not doing so by giving out all the tools in your tool chest, but by “sharing” them. It is a concept hard to explain, but easy to identify when seen. It means different things to different people, as evidenced by various discussions on ChiefDelphi here and here (among other places).

GP is the tool used to utilize the main goal of FIRST: to change society for the better. The vision of FIRST is to create a world where science and technology heroes are as revered as sports stars. This goal has been greatly helped along with the introduction of the concept of Gracious Professionalism: It is changing the way teenagers think about themselves and others.

The term was coined by Woodie Flowers, and is one of the key reasons why FIRST has been so overwhelmingly successful. Gracious Professionalism is not a “thing”, but a habit or way of conducting one’s self. It encourages quality work, good ethics, respect for yourself and everyone else, and the ability to compete in a gracious manner. “GP” represents everything FIRST stands for. Competition with respect. Effective communication. Creative brainstorming. Gracious Professionalism.

2004 Regional Chairman’s Award (paraphrased Award created to keep central focus of FIRST Robotics on ultimate goal transforming the culture to one where youth aspire to careers in science and technology) honors the team that, in the judges’ estimation, best represents a model for other teams to emulate, and which embodies the goals and purpose of FIRST. It is presented to team judged to have created the best partnership effort among team participants, and to have best exemplified the true meaning of FIRST. Among the factors judges evaluate are: concrete examples of mentorship between students and engineers; clear indications of the spirit the shared experience develops among all participants; demonstrations of how a team inspires others in its school, community and beyond to share in the excitement and fun of engineering; and compelling stories about how the partnership has impacted the lives of those involved. It remains FIRST’s most prestigious award. The winner of this year’s has generated an excellent partnership within its team, within the schools the team represents, with the community college, and with the whole community. They have helped other teams get formed, helped them on their robots, created a practice field shared with other teams, and has constantly supported others at the competition. They have creatively worked to spread the spirit of FIRST throughout the community through their work with AOL, their spectacular website, and local radio and television. FIRST is about much more than the mechanisms of building a robot or winning a competition event. It is about the impact of FIRST has on those who participate in the program and the impact to the community at large. It is about changing the way America’s young people regard science and technology and to inspire pursuit of real-life rewards and careers in these fields. Our winning team has sustained excellence in promoting these goals and they continue their aggressive work to plan the seed for tomorrow’s robotics competitors and future scientists and engineers. This year’s award goes to the sponsor of the “Gracious Professionalism Award”, and they exemplify this better than anyone.