East West

“Freshman year, I joined the Robotics Team, and my kids did too,” says Tom Ferguson, amateur stand-up comedian and Team 694’s lead engineering mentor of four years. This funny, inspirational dad is also an aerospace engineer and Vice President of Engineering at Cox & Company, Inc., the only aerospace manufacturing firm in Manhattan. Tom is uniquely qualified for his vital role on our team because he has degrees and experience in both electrical and mechanical engineering. Fortunately, he gives enormous amounts of time to Robotics. “It’s the most frustrating activity I’ve ever taken part in, but for some reason I’m totally addicted.” We’re glad he is, because he has been vital to our learning, progress, and development over the past years.

We know when to expect Tom, every day at 5:00 we get a phone call in the lab asking if anyone needs anything from Tribeca Hardware. Then Tom arrives, carrying needed supplies and eager to help. Members all agree he takes the time to explain complex topics and never gets impatient. Tom explains the principles and physics behind mechanical aspects of robotics and guides students in finding their own solutions to problems. According to our tech teacher, “He’s a role model for our team.”

Tom says that a lot of what he does is provoking thought and encouraging responsibility in student leaders. He shows us how to be more professional in the way we approach our projects. We have learned to think before we build, design before we construct, and always make calculations first. He makes a point of involving even new members in everything we do. Students say he is approachable,” “a great teacher,” and “outstanding at what he does.” One parent says that “as a mentor, Tom is the best thing that could have happened to our school.”

Tom devotes himself to Robotics, even when he’s outside our lab. For the past two summers he’s welcomed us to his home for planning meetings. When budget cuts limited our access to the lab, even during the construction period, he continually opened his apartment to the team. Even when there is no meeting, he works with one son on Autodesk Inventor designs for the robot. According to his other son, “dinner conversation is all about robotics, late at night conversations are all about robotics. Robotics is everywhere.”

As a result of Tom’s involvement with our team, two years ago he started an annual summer internship program at Cox and Company. His co-workers have gotten involved with our team, and the company provides invaluable materials and machining support. Cox and Company is now our most valued corporate contributor.

Beyond his dedication to our team, Tom exemplifies the spirit of FIRST. His willingness to help is not limited to our team. Last year at the NYC Regional, he spent all his spare moments helping Team 711. The team was very enthusiastic, but had no engineering mentors, resulting in a robot with serious mechanical deficiencies. He says it was a “rewarding experience because they were soooo happy” when he helped the team get their robot working.

Robotics has truly affected Tom. He claims it “brought me closer to my children and to the school.” He finds that FIRST teaches members practical knowledge and provides real-life applications for math and science. As a result, Tom now asks job candidates about FIRST involvement. He believes that “FIRST does more to prepare kids for the real world experience than anything else.”

Since Tom does so much to enhance our FIRST experience and exemplify the meaning of FIRST, we believe he merits the Woodie Flowers Award.