Dawei Lin believes innovation is one of the most crucial assets needed by future generations and that FIRST® is an ideal venue that supplements subject-based learning at school with project-based learning and creativity education. He has coached and mentored FIRST® LEGO® League teams for seven years and FIRST® Tech Challenge teams for three years and has volunteered as a judge at all levels. Professionally, Dawei is the Associate Director for Bioinformatics and Senior Advisor to the Director of Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institute of Health (NIH). He lives with his wife, also a scientist, and three children in Maryland. Read on to learn more about how Dawei’s inspiration for volunteering and what he and other volunteers in his area are doing now.
How did you get involved with FIRST?
My venture in FIRST started with understanding the contradiction that my kids complained the schools were "boring," but they were excited to go to school every day. I discovered they learned different sets of skills inside and outside the classroom. Classes emphasize critical thinking skills. At school, students are mostly given directives on problems to solve. They may feel they work for teachers and parents. In real life, kids want to address issues related to their interests. Outside the classroom, they work for themselves. During the process, they need to learn design thinking skills, which focus on empathy, creativity, and teamwork. That is in line with FIRST activities.
When did you start volunteering?
We began volunteering with FIRST LEGO League when my daughter was ten and my son was eight. We have been a FIRST family ever since.
Why did you start volunteering?
I started volunteering as the coach of my kids' FIRST LEGO League team. We went to the State Championship and even won the Rookie All-Star Award. In the second season, we thought it had gone well, but we did not advance to the State Championship. Confused by what happened, I decided to volunteer as a judge at the State Championship that year. The experience completely opened my eyes and changed my mind. I started understanding the rubrics, the judging process, and, most importantly, the system and philosophy of FIRST. Subsequently, I volunteered as a judge and in other roles at local and state events and even at the FIRST Championship and invitational events.
During this global crisis, how are you supporting teams or the FIRST community?
The coronavirus pandemic is a terrible public health crisis. However, it does not stop the FIRST students from learning. We found that, although social distancing prevents people from being together physically, through technology and creativity, people can connect with each other more easily and meaningfully. Our FIRST Tech Challenge team, Almond Robotics (#12518), founded "FIRST Online - for teams, by teams" on March 20, 2020. It is a platform for students, mentors, and coaches to share their knowledge and experiences. Many busy mentors, coaches, and key volunteers are readily available because of stay-at-home orders. The FIRST Online platform has offered more than a dozen workshops and panel discussions presented by teams, judges, and referees. The videos and presentations are available at https://firstroboticsonline.weebly.com/. So far, we have had more than 250 unique students and mentors who participated in the online sessions from our home state of Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington, California, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Alaska.
What do you think is the most rewarding part of being a volunteer with FIRST?
As a scientist, the biggest reward for volunteering is the inspiration from the creativity of youth. I also enjoy the bonding with my children and their friends. It is satisfying to observe in real time that they are gaining confidence through their work and passions and are feeling the real-world impact they have made on themselves and others.
What advice would you give to a new volunteer?
The advice I want to give my fellow coaches and parents is to provide children a safe environment to fail. Trust them and be patient with them to allow them to learn their life lessons from failures, not from grades and awards.
What do you like to do outside of volunteering with FIRST?
I am an Adult Fan of LEGO®, also called AFOL. My specialty is designing and building LEGO DNA models. Some of my work is at http://dnapassion.blogspot.com/
I have also been a judge for many years at Science Montgomery in Maryland and an evaluator at national science fairs sponsored by the Society for Science & the Public, including Broadcom MASTERS® for middle schoolers and the Regeneron Science Talent Search for high schoolers.