FIRST President Don Bossi Interview

Don Bossi with BlueDevil Press Robotics students at Duluth’s Double DECCer Robotics Regional received a visit from Don Bossi, President of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Students view Bossi as the “Gamemaker”, the brains behind each year’s robotics challenge.The BlueDevil Press, robotics student reporters, asked Bossi about his experience with FIRST, this year’s game, and FIRST’s goals to spread the program further.

As student reporters rushed  to get proper interview materials prepared, Bossi unexpectedly walked into the old locker room, designated for the BlueDevil Press reporters. Faces of surprise, “good mornings” and introductions began immediately  and the interview turned “small press conference” was underway. BlueDevil Press showed Bossi the student made wrap around the Duluth News Tribune and explained how they live report on the Double DECCer Regional. Bossi said the project was “very cool” and was very interested in how it got the community involved.

As Bossi and the student press sat on the worn locker room benches, BlueDevil Press asked Bossi to compare the Double DECCer to other FIRST Robotics regionals he has attended. “… More important rather than what’s different is what’s the same”, Bossi explained I just think it’s neat how […] you can walk into a FIRST event and it can be in Tel Aviv, it can be in Australia, it can be in Minnesota, it can be in Texas, and there’s so much that’s the same and part of it is the ethos. Which is really cool and it’s not like we put out a book that can tell people how to behave, right?”

A unique aspect about FIRST Robotics is how teams are encouraged to collaborate even as competitors. “We do float these concepts like ‘Gracious Professionalism’ and ‘Coopertition’ and […] it just amazes me how much, without giving a definition, you kids know what that means, and you bring it to life…Which is really cool [because] it’s not like we put out a book that can tell people how to behave, right?”As Bossi speaks you can see the joy in his eyes and passion in his voice,“I think that’s actually what I really enjoy most about it is that if you cover my eyes and drop me in almost any FIRST event I honestly wouldn’t know where the building was because, it just feels the same. I’m sure we could go to the Minneapolis regional, and you know there’s a little local flair but it’s still FIRST.” It’s a strong and commendable prospect that so many bright, happy young adults are being influenced in such a positive and constructive way by FIRST and their principles.

When asked about his involvement in FIRST, he said “What really attracted me to FIRST was not just the fact that it exposes kids to science, technology, engineering and math, but all the soft skills all the things like the leadership, the communication, the teamwork.” According to the FIRST Robotics website, firstinspires.org, 90% of students who participate in FIRST are more interested in taking a challenging math or science course and attending college. FIRST Robotics students qualify for over $22 milion in college scholarships and are two times as likely to major in a science or engineering discipline. Bossi expands on the impact of FIRST Robotics explaining, “I know first hand, you know whether you’re in a big company or a startup, that’s actually what determines success or failure and its really, people that care, you know, appreciate and understand technology but can bring it to life by thinking about the whole solution.”Don Bossi

Bossi recounted his journey into FIRST his credentials as an Electrical Engineer, and 15 years of work in communications. He then went on to explain the importance of communication as well as STEM knowledge “You may have the greatest answer to the greatest need but if you can’t communicate it to people, and you can’t inspire people to provide funding, to help the company grow…”

His fervor over the matter climbed as he went on to explain “…there’s a lot of great ideas, that die on the vine because of that.” He frankly explained his view of the work going into robotics teams with a sense of enthused awe. “I mean, I look at the businesses you guys run in your teams and the fact that you have, you’re running organizations that are as complex as most small businesses.”

When discussing the involvement of young adults in FIRST, Don Bossi said “To be really honest I want to see in the not-so-distant future …. […] more women, […] more kids of color, I’d love to see kids from different backgrounds, and, one of the challenges is that we know we can make that impact if we can just get kids involved. And that’s part of the reason why we went with a very popular theme with stronghold, was to try and sorta make it attractive, make it cool, make it exciting.”

Talking to him about viewing the regionals, he went on to say that “Unfortunately I won’t be able to be here tomorrow to see the ending; the worst part of my job is I’m never there for the closing because tomorrow I’m going to the Toronto Regional, then the next day I’m in New Jersey. So it’s like I– Actually I think until I, almost till Einstein I never see the end of ‘em. … [B]y the end of the second day all the teams have worked out a lot of bugs and, you know, thought of new ways to do things and getting amped up on the second day.”

The end came swiftly, but Bossi spared an extra minute to take photos with the press, encouraging the members to group around, showing the blend of how the BlueDevil Press brings teams together for one cause, as the progression from Esko fades to Bossi and the BDP, and then to the Daredevils. All parties were very gracious and thankful for the meeting, and Don Bossi left a beaming, newly inspired group to work even more on finding good stories.

Written by Morgan Pirsig, Cassie Pennings, Daniel Lake

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