FIRST Newsletter - September, 2011 - Lynn Sherr
Long-Time ABC Correspondent Recalls Dean Kamen’s “Simple” Solution to Change the Country’s Culture
When I first met Dean in New Hampshire back in 1993, I didn't have a clue what to expect: a souped-up version of the Westinghouse Science Fair? An eccentric inventor with yet another vision for saving the world's teens? Well, yes, but put all that on steroids. When producer Nola Safro and I put Dean and FIRST on "20/20" for its first network prime time TV airing, I couldn't find enough superlatives to tell the story. Here was a guy whose workshop was four times the size of his kitchen, an apt comment on his priorities. Here was a corporate mogul with 25 suits of clothes in his closet -- all in varying shades of denim. Here was a guy who had earned a fortune, owned an island, and was determined to bring the rest of the world along with him. "I'm 5'6"," he told me. "I didn't make it as a basketball player."
What he did -- for me, for our viewers, for the young Americans whose lives he has indelibly altered -- was to marry that singular enthusiasm for engineering and science with the competitive rush of the ball courts, to create a giant force for greatness. "Our goal is pretty simple," he told me back then, typically understating the challenge. "We want to change the culture of the United States." And that's what he's done, one brain at a time. I met a youngster who figured he'd be a gas station attendant until he built a FIRST robot. Now he's an engineer. I met a young woman who said she'd been afraid of science because she thought she had to be really good at math. Now she was building robots. And I met a kid in a purple t-shirt who was cheering like a football fan for his robotic team. "There's a lot of stuff here that a textbook couldn't handle," he said.
What Dean has accomplished is miraculous, but of course he doesn't see it that way. That weekend in 1993 -- another era, another mindset, and eerily, the day of the first bombing at New York's World Trade Center -- he recognized the secret: "Nobody," he told me, "will ever make as much from his muscles as from his mind." Keep flexing it, Dean. We need you.