FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Dean's List Award Updates

Sep 05, 2023 Written by Ashley Marie Johnson, FIRST Robotics Competition Program Specialist & Erin Fadden, FIRST Tech Challenge Project Manager




Update as of September 12, 2023: The updated Dean's List Award Guide has been published! 

We are so excited to announce some updates to the Dean’s List Award!

We have spent the past twelve months deep diving into the Dean’s List Award and asking folks from our community for their input on the award. This list includes colleges and universities, prior Dean’s List Award winners, experienced judges, alumni, sponsors and suppliers, Dean Kamen, and more. We discovered that the perceived goal of this award differed over the many groups we spoke to. Some thought it was college admissions focused, others thought it was more about leadership, and others thought it was more about being an ambassador for FIRST®.  

Taking all of this feedback into consideration, along with our goal of ensuring that the award was aligned with the goals of the organization as a whole, we decided to move forward with the intent to:

  • Make the award more accessible while still maintaining the level of outstanding accomplishment the award represents.
  • Encourage more teams to nominate their students.
  • Tighten up the goal, vision, and mission of the award and in doing so:
    • Put less focus on the college/university aspect of this award, aligning with many of the changes FIRST has been making overall – since this path is not the path for every student.
    • Put more focus on the leadership aspect of the award.

At its core, the Dean’s List Award was accomplishing what we wanted it to: identifying outstanding student leaders. Because of this, the changes we are making are not extreme, but instead do shift the award more towards a focus on exceptional student leaders within our program.


Updates to Criteria

Some of this criteria will look familiar to you, but please note that there are changes to it that we’d like for you to take into consideration while making a nomination, so please be sure to familiarize yourself with the below:

  • Demonstrated leadership and commitment to the FIRST Core Values 
  • Effectiveness at increasing awareness of FIRST in their school and community 
  • Demonstrates passion for a long-term commitment to FIRST 
  • The student’s individual contributions to their team contribute to the overall success of the team
  • Proven experience in areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
  • The student is a role model and can motivate and lead fellow team members 

Eligibility criteria remains unchanged.


Updates to Nomination

To make sure the essay prompts mapped to the updated criteria, we’ve also made some adjustments to the nomination essays. The updated prompts are below, and each will have an 800-character limit:

  1. Explain how the student embodies the philosophies of Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® through the FIRST Core Values: Discovery, Innovation, Impact, Inclusion, Teamwork and Fun. Please provide examples.
  2. How has the student increased the awareness of FIRST? Describe the student’s interests and/or plans to continue to engage with FIRST beyond high school. Please provide examples.
  3. How does the student's individual contribution to the team benefit the whole? Please provide examples.
  4. Describe the students' experience in areas of STEM. This could include but is not limited to skills in engineering, software, CAD, fabrication, etc. Please provide examples.
  5. Explain the student’s leadership to their fellow team members. How do they motivate others? What is their leadership style? Please provide examples.

New! We’ve added a section for additional comments about the student with a 500-character limit:

  1. Please share anything else you would like us to know about the student, including academic performance, specialized skills, or additional extracurricular activities.


  • We have removed the “Academic Excellence” field from the nomination, as it has been incorporated into the new additional comments prompt outlined above. 
  • We have removed the optional photo submission from the nomination form


As a friendly reminder, submissions for the Dean’s List Award open at 12pm Noon ET on November 3, 2023! Please consider nominating your eligible students for this award, as the recognition and validation students receive upon being nominated is invaluable.

For more details on the Dean’s List Award, please check out the Submitted Awards webpage. The updated Dean’s List Award Guide will be available on the Submitted Awards page soon!

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I strongly disagree with the emphasis in these new guidelines on continued engagement with FIRST beyond high school. Students should be allowed to use the program as a launchpad into the STEM field and should be strongly encouraged to focus their time and energy on progressing their career after graduation, whether that be by going directly into industry or going to college. The idea that a student with outstanding past and current leadership contributions to their team should be excluded from getting an award celebrating that achievement because they are not willing to commit to continuing to volunteer after graduation is outlandish, especially when most students have no idea what their life will look like years in the future and even the most sincere commitment is likely to crumble in the face of the many unknown challenges post-high school life brings.

I can see where FIRST is coming from with wanting their deans list winners to give back by continuing to support FIRST programs after graduating. The truth is that any such commitment is completely speculative, there is no way to verify the future. With a judging criteria like this, we find ourselves in a place where we may be making liars out of our students, there is no reason to put this pressure on them. Keep in mind this is an essay written not by the student, so therefore the author can only truthfully describe what the student has already demonstrated.
I do like all the other changes, its good that FIRST is constantly re-evaluating their awards.

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