“This is better than an Emmy,” Al announced after the 2005 Midwest Regional Woodie Flowers Award ceremony. Coming from a recipient of both these honors, these words truly demonstrate Al’s devotion to the FIRST community. Indeed, when the Emmy relinquished its post on the bookcase to his brand new FIRST award, Al’s dedication was plainly understood.
A senior broadcast engineer for WTTW, Al Skierkiewicz certainly has a background befitting of a lead electrical mentor: from adjusting powerful transmitters atop the Sears Tower to analyzing satellite dishes well beyond the Arctic Circle, Al’s experiences make him an expert in the field. When students ask even the most demanding questions, Al is always quick with a heartfelt and knowledgeable explanation, making the intricacies of electrical engineering easily understandable to his students. Al conveys the concepts behind digital circuitry, the inner workings of speed controllers, as well as the skillful art of applying molten solder – all with the greatest of ease. Yet he never strikes a tone of condescension, always patiently supporting the students, asking for their input, and working as their equal.
Al’s teachings do not stop at the limits of electrical engineering, however. As former electrical team member Tiffany Gach said, Al “listens to how we are doing in school, and helps us with questions we have both in robotics and our lives.” Al’s commitment continually inspires students in all aspects of their lives, as shown by 2007 graduate Conor Delaney’s decision to pursue a college degree after Al urged him to apply. His actions truly underline the significance of a philosophy held dear: as Al says, “I think it’s important that everybody learns something new every day, and if you haven’t by the time you go to bed, you better get up and learn something!” Al’s dedication extends even further into FIRST. As father of two former WildStang members, one who currently mentors a team, Al has selflessly given 13 years to the FIRST community. Al’s contributions cannot escape notice – he volunteers as lead inspector at competitions from the Midwest regional to the championship event itself. He has mentored a
staggering six FIRST Lego League teams, complementing the countless FRC teams he helps. From sponsoring an electrical design workshop at the 2008 New Hampshire kickoff event to creating a new FIRST sponsor at Caterpillar, Inc, Al’s initiative is evident in all aspects of FIRST. He spreads the word of FIRST to students, instructors, and corporations across the country, hoping to provide the same experience enjoyed by his children and his students to schools nationwide. Whether addressing a room full of Shure, Inc. employees in the fall of 2007 or working with DEKA and FIRST to train new inspectors, Al is constantly on the move exploring new avenues for improving his team and the organization behind it.
Thus competence, excitement, and long standing dedication mark Al’s FIRST career. As former electrical team member Roxanna Vigil points out, “he makes the electrical team fun!” Yet Al’s unmistakable influence finds its place far deeper than the electrical subteam he has mentored for a dozen years. It is visible in Al’s choice to help team 1365 rebuild their robot following its disastrous destruction during shipping. It was honored when Al received the “Unsung FIRST Hero” award through the Chief Delphi website in 2004, commemorating the countless bits of advice and assistance Al offered on the forums. And it shows when Al sends his students home from practice to study during finals week. In this way, Al serves as a testament to innovation, excitement, and dedication – the very ideals promoted by FIRST.