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Debbie Brumback <[log in to unmask]>
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Debbie Brumback <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 13 Dec 2008 17:33:04 -0500
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Is anyone interested in discussing how girls have differed from boys (in
general) within the concept of Gracious Professionalism?

Is it possible that many girls and some boys are too quick to model gracious
professionalism towards other more assertive, self-confident team members?
I'm thinking "innovatively" here, so please be graciously professional with
your thoughts and replies.

Within an FLL team or any other professional group of robot designers,
computer programmers, scientists, etc., gracious professionalism could
easily be interpreted in such a way that the people best able to do a
particular job (or best able to convince the team they are the best) should
be given that job. Other team members are acting graciously when they accept
their role on a team or project, based on their current skills with an
understanding that the ultimate team goal is "high-quality work".

A male mechanical engineering professor of MIT defined gracious
professionalism. Maybe, this definition of gracious professionalism (copied
below) is directed more towards the personalities of guys at MIT, than girls
of similar intelligence at a liberal arts college, even girls that are
interested in science.  (Sorry for the sweeping generalizations.)

Within the definition of Gracious Professionalism, I see "high-quality
work", "fierce competition", "mutual gain", "compete like crazy", "value
others", "respect", "kindness", "meaningful life", "add to society",
"integrity", and "sensitivity". However, I don't see helping, sharing,
discussing, compromising, teaching, process over product - characteristics
that I might have specifically included if I, a female, would have defined
gracious professionalism as it might relate specifically to an educational
experience or internal team dynamics.

So, I'm wondering, with as much gracious professionalism as possible, if
there might be additional goals, beyond gracious professionalism, yet
undefined, that would apply more towards girls and also boys who are a bit
more flexible and easy going than perhaps the average engineering student at
MIT, where this definition originated.

Why do I wonder?
First, I just watched my son's Lego team struggle with not always agreeing
on the path taken within their team, as I'm sure all teams experience.  My
observation was that the strongest team personalities often exhibited more
of the G.P. characteristics of focusing on "high quality work" and "fierce
competition" while the more flexible members were exhibiting the G.P.
characteristics of "kindness" and "value others".

Second, I recently discovered that my daughter has almost certainly decided
not to major in computer science after one semester in college, even after
successfully taking three computer classes at community college prior to
enrolling at a 4 year college.  Just to share one example of things leading
to this decision, she told me that when it was time to divide into project
teams, she decided to "stand up for herself" and make sure she wasn't on the
project team with the two boys in her class that seemed to already know
everything.  She said that would have made her project easy to complete but
she knew she wouldn't have learned anything.  If any girl could have stuck
with computer science, it would have been my daughter who has sometimes
described her math and cs teachers as being just like her brother (a lego
league member), not to mention that she was raised by two parents, both with
Mechanical Engineering degrees and many graduate level computer science

I understand the concerns she has and actually did not encourage her to
study computer science.  But, since it was her interest, I have tried to be
encouraging and remind her that those guys that she thinks know more than
she does actually entered the class already knowing the programming language
they are using. I think my daughter will be happier as a music major, but
that still leaves the world short of one more female computer programmer.

Why is it so hard to keep girls interested in computer science and
engineering in the United States?  Maybe the answer to this mystery lies
somewhere within (or outside of) the definition of gracious professionalism.

Please understand that I completely support the objectives of gracious
professionalism.  I'm just wondering if there is an equal but somewhat
opposite motto required to balance all the personalities that could exist
within the engineering/robotics community.  While some team members need to
focus on gracious professionalism, others may need to be challenged towards
something else, maybe "assertive professionalism", even with the risk of
loss of the peace and harmony that comes from the more flexible team members
sometimes standing firm with their ideas.

Girls are entering medical school at rates equal to men and entering vet med
at a higher rate.  This suggest that girls are interested in science and can
be successful at a very high level.  The problem is keeping them interested
in engineering/computer science.  Every higher level of engineering - BS,
MS, PhD shows a steady drop in the percentage of woman who stay in the
field.  Maybe the issue isn't science.  Maybe, it's somewhere else, such as
within the social elements of gracious professionalism.

Sorry this email msg is so long. I'm figuring it was long ago deleted by
most people.  But, if you are still reading, I'd really appreciate your

Gracious Professionalism - as defined in the FIRST Lego League website

Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus
of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the
term "Gracious Professionalism."

Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a way of doing
things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others,
and respects individuals and the community.

With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not
separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but
treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid
treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no
sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are
comfortably blended.

In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful
life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has
acted with integrity and sensitivity.

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