You have inevitably heard of a wacky guy named Dave Lavery, though you probably know him as a NASA executive who sends robots to Mars or as a FIRST notable who has Dean Kamen on speed dial. Sure, Dave is a celebrity in the macrocosm of FIRST, but forget that for a moment because he deserves the Woodie Flowers Award for what he has done as a mentor on Team 116. Rocket scientists may be thought of as unapproachable, however Dave has the unique ability to break down technical concepts and explain them on a simple level. He patiently and eagerly explains such concepts, inciting creativity without intimidating the group. He deserves the Woodie Flowers Award for creatively and enthusiastically flooding every student on Team 116 with a love for inventing.
Dave often arrives at meetings excited, giddy, and bouncing off the walls, wearing a mischievous grin that says, “I know something you don’t know. and it’s too cool!” He readily shares his latest news with us. It could be anything from a neat idea to pictures from Mars to movies from Japanese robotics facilities. Although what he shares is always interesting, the best part is that he becomes incredibly enthusiastic when he explains it. He jumps around, hands pop up, kids get excited, and it is just FUN. As he talks about these marvels, and as you look around the room, you see that everyone is enthralled.
When asked to recall her favorite memory of Team 116, Alisha Wallenstein, class of 1999, answered, “When Dave Lavery sat down with me and explained how a servo worked; it was the first time that I didn’t feel intimidated by engineering. He really made me feel like I could learn this and understand it, and that I wasn’t dumb for not knowing what a servo was in the first place. It was really a life-changing moment.” After working with Dave on team 116, Alisha was inspired to found the Virginia Tech-sponsored FIRST Robotics team, and she recently prompted Israel to start 12 new FIRST Robotics teams, which she currently oversees.
Alisha is not the only student whom Dave Lavery has inspired; this mentor extraordinaire has affected many students over the 10 years that he has served as a mentor of Team 116. Kyle Witte, a senior and team captain, recalls, “I remember having to rewire the entire control system. Dave showed me how and then let me do it. He gives guidance and guidelines rather than instruction.” Students who have worked with Dave for an extended period of time appreciate his ability to humanize engineering, and so do students in their rookie year. Freshmen Staci Celinski and Ted Markson say that Dave always knows the right answer to a problem, but rather than simply handing it to students, he challenges them to think for themselves and figure it out by guiding them with yes or no questions.
Dave is just a regular, smart guy with a heart bigger than the universe he seeks to explore. Another mentor on the team once asked Dave if it bothered him that our team’s robot has never done very well at competitions. Dave replied, “As long as the students are inspired and try their best, I’m happy.” What Dave does for our team goes past what happens at the school and in the shop. Dave puts a face – a very happy face – on the world of engineering; he opens our minds and illuminates our potential, showing us that we too can make a real contribution to the world of science.