East West

In 2013, Michelle Grau founded Team 4904: Bot-Provoking at a new job in a brand  new school. The Nueva School, then a single freshman class of 75, was reluctant to  begin such a large club—but Michelle convinced them otherwise. Since then, she has  been the driving force behind Nueva’s robotics programs. As our school’s STEM  director, Kim Saxe, says, “the number of hours Michelle works is insane.” While  teaching five classes, Michelle coaches four FLL teams, runs extra robotics programs  for elementary students, and attends every single FRC meeting. Under her guidance,  Team 4904 has grown to 55 members—almost 20% of the student body.   

Michelle’s mentorship skills may stem from her extensive FIRST experience, where  she began as a student leader on FRC Team 692: The Fembots. Since then, she has  volunteered in FRC events throughout college, has been running FLL tournaments  for the past eight years, and founded FRC Team 4765, in addition to her leadership  of Nueva’s FIRST programs. In total, Michelle has been involved with the FIRST  community for 12 years. 

Whether writing last-minute recommendations for seniors or showing fourth  graders how to use LEGO gears, Michelle has a deep grasp of the diverse needs of  her students. Michelle knows how to find a balance between letting students  discover alone and lending a helping hand—an awareness that Saxe describes as  “critical” to great teaching.  

During our rookie year, Michelle guided us through tasks like finding sponsors and  building a drivetrain, but let us try out our own ideas in programming, prototyping,  and fabrication. Our robot was a mess—it barely manipulated the ball, drove  backwards instead of forwards, and constantly had parts falling off onto the field.  Michelle knew many of our strategies would fail, but she inspired us to learn from  our mistakes, leading a post-competition debrief that has become a yearly tradition  for the team. 

Four years later, it is clear that Michelle’s decisions on when to intervene and when  to let us fail have taught us independence and drive. Michelle may still step in to ask  a thought-provoking question, teach a student how to use the bandsaw, or reiterate  the need for safety glasses, clean-up, and sleep, but she has laid the foundation for a  truly student-run team. From pioneering new software protocols to creating open 

source gearboxes to co-hosting a practice field for local teams, we’ve come far from  our freshmen robot. Students write every line of code, machine every bracket, and  solder every circuit board—and we also organize weekly subteam leader meetings,  take initiatives to foster team diversity, and develop training curricula for new  members. Over the past few years, we’ve grown as a team as much as we’ve grown  as engineers.

Michelle is one of the best teachers we will ever have—patient, dedicated, and kind.  She empowers us to make our own discoveries, fostering real, lasting inspiration for  engineering and problem solving. We can’t thank her enough.