FIRST Founder Dean Kamen Honors Jeff Bezos, Celebrates Young Changemakers at Event Supporting STEM Education

STEM Education Nonprofit FIRST Hosts Fourth Annual Gala, Raises Funds to Make FIRST Programs More Widely Available to Disadvantaged Students

Jeff Bezos Discusses Technology, Education, and the Future Workforce Onstage with Walter Isaacson

NEW YORK, N.Y., November 5, 2018 – FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international, youth-serving not-for-profit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and its local affiliate NYC FIRST®, gathered the nation’s most passionate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education supporters at the 2018 FIRST Inspire Gala, last week for an evening that included an inspiring, forward-looking conversation between journalist Walter Isaacson and gala honoree Jeff Bezos about technology, education and the future workforce.

“You have to learn to learn,” said Bezos during a fireside chat with Isaacson about the future of jobs, advising that young people should start building that skill early to be ready for jobs not yet created. He added, “Whatever you do, choose something you can bring passion to.”

The fourth annual fundraising gala, held November 1 at Cipriani Wall Street, celebrated innovation in technology and highlighted the impact of FIRST over the past three decades, while looking ahead to continued expansion of students’ access to exciting educational opportunities that spark their interest and help them build confidence, STEM knowledge, and workforce skills.

FIRST founder Dean Kamen, honoree Jeff Bezos, and journalist Walter Isaacson speak onstage at the fourth annual FIRST Inspire Gala on November 2, 2018, in New York City

FIRST founder Dean Kamen, honoree Jeff Bezos, and journalist Walter Isaacson speak onstage at the
fourth annual FIRST Inspire Gala on November 2, 2018, in New York City

“In today’s ever-changing workforce, it’s critical we ensure all children have access to creative, hands-on problem-solving opportunities that instill a lifelong love of learning and adaptability,” said Donald E. Bossi, president of FIRST. “High-quality STEM learning and engagement opportunities like FIRST can be a game-changer for young people in disenfranchised communities who might otherwise not have access to pathways to develop the skills they need to be well-rounded leaders, innovators and changemakers.”

Each year the FIRST Inspire Gala honors outstanding individuals who have advanced technology, STEM education, and the mission of FIRST; this year’s honorees were Jeff Bezos, founder of, and Melissa Smith, a FIRST alumna.

  • Jeffrey P. Bezos received the “Leadership in Technology” Award, recognizing an outstanding visionary whose leadership in innovation and advancing technology has changed the way we live, work, and communicate and paved the way for future generations of innovators to move our society forward. Bezos founded in 1994. He is also the founder of aerospace company Blue Origin, which is working to lower the cost and increase the safety of spaceflight so that humans can better continue exploring the solar system.
    Jeff Bezos with FIRST LEGO League team at FIRST Inspire Gala

    Jeff Bezos with FIRST LEGO League team at FIRST Inspire Gala

  • Melissa Smith, a FIRST alumna, received the “Evelyn Kamen Rising Star” Award for her dedication to continuing to live the FIRST ethos in a way that is inspiring the next generation of FIRST participants. Smith is a senior user experience researcher at Google, working on improving the YouTube video-watching experience. Melissa has been active in FIRST for over 18 years, starting as a FIRST LEGO® League student in middle school and competing with FIRST® Robotics Competition Team 1251 in high school. She is currently a head referee for FIRST Championship and the San Francisco Regional and a member of the San Francisco Regional Planning Committee. Melissa strives to share the excitement and possibilities STEM can offer people who otherwise may not encounter them.
Melissa Smith with FIRST President Don Bossi at FIRST Inspire Gala

Melissa Smith with FIRST President Don Bossi at FIRST Inspire Gala

Last year’s honorees included former U.S. President Barack Obama for his significant contributions to raising awareness about FIRST among the general public and helping spread the mission and impact of the organization.

Proceeds from the FIRST Inspire Gala go toward making FIRST programs more widely available to disadvantaged students in New York City, throughout our country, and around the world. This year’s event also helped fund FIRST STEM Equity Community Innovation Grants – grants designed to ensure more underrepresented, underserved and vulnerable students in the U.S. are exposed to creative problem-solving, hands-on learning, and future career opportunities available to them. Awarded yearly since 2016, the grants are helping dozens of communities develop new and innovative approaches to address equity, inclusion, and diversity inequalities in STEM.

If you’re interested in learning more, or donating to FIRST, please visit

About FIRST®
Accomplished inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With support from over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies and more than $80 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST® Robotics Competition for students in Grades 9-12; FIRST® Tech Challenge for Grades 7-12; FIRST® LEGO® League for Grades 4-8; and FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. for Grades K-4. Gracious Professionalism® is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. To learn more about FIRST, go to


NYC FIRST® is the New York City-based not-for-profit affiliate of FIRST®, an international not-for-profit mentoring organization that was created to excite young people about science and technology, prepare today's students to enter tomorrow's advanced technology-based workplace, and provide them with valuable life skills. NYC FIRST is dedicated to providing students from all five boroughs with the opportunity to take part in FIRST programs and providing them with the physical and human capital resources they need to unlock their creative potential. Participation in FIRST has a positive impact on the lives of students, increasing college attendance, majors in science and engineering, participation in internships, co-ops and careers, and involvement in community service. To learn more about NYC FIRST, go to