Coming from the average person, the words “you’re pathetic” denote a disparaging remark; coming from Raul Olivera, they form the perfect motivator. Indeed, Raul has earned a reputation as the loudest and most opinionated mentor on the team – yet WildStang students agree that these qualities always promote motivation and participation.
Raul has been the lead mechanical engineer since the team’s inception in 1996. Working with students throughout the school year, he quickly offers help to younger students in need, yet urges older, more experienced students to perform at their fullest potential and utilize what they have learned. Students acknowledge that the response to their mistakes may be loud, yet all agree that Raul quickly follows up with a knowledgeable explanation of what went wrong, working with students to learn from their mistakes. While others may merely correct a simple eror, Raul makes sure to explain the implications of failing to rectify the problem. For example, it may lead to a heartfelt explanation of the robot’s complex drive train or the reasons a particular part placement. Students on the mechanical team learn not only the correct way to design and assemble a robot – Raul teaches the engineering concepts that allow them to think for themselves, to make their own design suggestions or improvements, and to teach the concepts they have learned to others. For example, before the 2007 build season students were unsure of the coefficients of friction of different wheel materials. Although Raul knew the outcome, he created a physics experiment for the mechanical students to discover the results themselves.
Raul’s influence does not stop at the limits of the mechanical team, for it extends into nearly all aspects of WildStang operation. From expecting each and every student to add ideas during brainstorming to showcasing final computer designs to the entire team during class meetings, Raul ensures every WildStang member knows the basic game design and robot operation – whether they create the yearbook, manufacture the playing field, or drive the robot itself. On subteams devoted to robot construction, Raul listens in on meetings, offers suggestions, and ensures students meet their own deadlines. All students seem to experience the same Raul: as electrical student Tiffany Gach points out, freshman and sophomore years are filled with intense learning. By senior year, that transforms into knowledge and leadership – rewarded by congratulations from Raul that students find truly heartfelt and meaningful.
To WildStang, Raul is an indispensable and often intense mentor and engineer. Raul is a figure well-known and often admired by teams and students far from home as shown by the Chief Delphi comment from Andy Baker, “Thanks for all that you do… and inspiring countless students and engineers to work hard at making FIRST a great competition.” Whether because of his never-ending desire to aid fellow competitors or his creative strategies on the field, students and mentors alike seem inspired and often awe-struck after a chance to ask Raul’s advice. Yet perhaps Raul’s opinion of FIRST was best exemplified in the final match of the 2008 Midwest Regional. Mechanical member and robot driver
Rebecca Leung distinctly remembers Raul’s torn opinions about the match. After all, he was facing a team mentored by a fellow Motorola engineer and former WildStang student – his own son, who was inspired by Raul in his career choice and FIRST participation. Still, Raul expressed happiness even after losing, excellently displaying his passion for teaching – not winning. Indeed, to everybody he meets, Raul always provides the perfect balance of competition and gracious professionalism, of learning and fun, of critiquing and congratulating, regardless of the situation.