MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIX No. 2
November / December 2016
A Message From MIT Faculty
Affirming Our Shared Values
Resisting Anti-Science Stances
of the New Administration
Can A University Become Carbon Neutral?
On Gracious Professionalism
Skoltech – A Personal and
Professional Journey
Evolution of Schools, Departments,
and Centers at MIT
Susan L. Lindquist
George Rathjens
An Institute-Wide Festival of Learning
Do you have unreleased software projects you’d like to clean up and release as open source, but don’t have time?
Spread the Joy of Giving
This Holiday Season
The Alumni Class Funds Seek Proposals for
Teaching and Education Enhancements
¡¡¡Retired Faculty Alert!!!
Improving Institute Faculty Meetings
On Gender Differences in Submitting Admissions Maker Portfolios
Access MIT and Transit Commuter Benefits
Keep Up the Good Work
Campus Research Expenditures FY 1997–2016
MIT Research Expenditures FY 1940–2015
Printable Version

On Gracious ProfessionalismTM

Woodie Flowers

The election has been painful. It reminds me that we have a responsibility to help students become thoughtful citizens. Rational thought blended with empathy seems too rare everywhere.

Personal experience leads me to believe our students would be receptive to hearing us address their obligations to society. Dean Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989. A couple of years later, Dean and I co-founded the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) patterned after the creative design exercises I had been running for many years in the Mechanical Engineering design courses. The “2.70 Contest” was anchored by “gracious professionalism,” a term I coined to celebrate the wonderful behavior prevalent among students in that course. They competed like crazy, but treated one another with respect and took pride in helping and teaching one another.

At the first FRC Kickoff, I used one slide with the term “Gracious Professionalism.” Encouraged by Dean, at the second FRC Kickoff, I used six slides featuring the phrase. Since then, Gracious Professionalism™ has become a powerful part of the ethos of the whole FIRST community. FIRST competitions have grown and have millions of alumni. Scattered over 80 countries, young people have embraced the notion that competition and kindness are compatible. At MIT, 10% of our freshman classes are FIRST alumni.

As we make the transition to digitally-enhanced learning and machine-assisted professions, I believe “uniquely-human” will be a powerful differentiator. Professionals who understand the laws of the universe and also have an emphatic response to others will be the leaders. Those who think science is a la carte will have aspirations that Mother Nature will not tolerate.

MIT students will have an obvious advantage because of their understanding of what is possible. We need to make sure they are also well equipped to manifest creativity, leadership, good judgment, and ethical behavior. 

I offer Gracious Professionalism as a convenient label. It blends rigorous adherence to the laws of the universe with the human qualities we hope to see as those laws are applied by our alumni. Giving back with conscience. Blending hard knowledge with soft feelings. Facts, feeling, and fairness. The FIRST community, which includes all ages, have embraced “GP” and actually compete to “out GP” one another.

How might Gracious Professionals have voted?

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