East West

Whether found leaning inquisitively over a robot, enthusiastically explaining the trigonometric relationship of drive wheel placement, or listening to a transmission presentation created by energetic students, this quiet yet impassioned mentor has made an indelible mark on each member of Chantilly Robotics. Throughout his 5 year relationship with Team 612, Mr. Skene has lead countless students to a discovery of not only their technical talents in the field of science and technology, but also to a recognition of our power to make a significant difference in the world.

Mr. Skene is a graduate of the Stanford Executive Institute and holds a Masters degree in applied physics. He has been granted several US and foreign patents and one of his designs is in permanent collection at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. He founded Skene Designs, an engineering firm established to create innovative products in the field of transportation. Yet, Mr. Skene views his role as mentor of Chantilly Robotics with equal regard, sacrificing countless hours to guide a team of 40 students from design conception to competition. His subtle yet ardent counsel has facilitated our team’s development of internal structure, project management and technological competence. Mr. Skene’s guidance has inspired each member of Chantilly Robotics to take creative design risks and to reach beyond the robotics lab to obtain student internships in a variety of engineering disciplines.

While examining the team’s proposal for a new drive system, Mr. Skene’s encouragement brought esoteric mathematic formulas to life as we evaluated the system’s efficacy. He guides us through captivating exploration of programming functions until we discover solutions that create a functioning device. He encourages each team member to build individual strengths while broadening our strengths and talents to meet the needs of the team. No sooner do we develop an understanding of a new concept, when Mr. Skene has us presenting our ideas to a group of engineers at a “brown bag” luncheon or before the camera in a television news segment. Standing at the white board before a group of peers while Mr. Skene looks on has generated a fair share of “ah-ha” moments for most of us.

After reading in the local newspaper about the successes of Chantilly Robotics, a family with a severely disabled infant contacted the team. Rahim was born with shortened limbs that extended inches from his trunk. His mobility was severely limited and the family was in need of a device to provide Rahim with the experiences of early childhood. In his quiet and encouraging way he asked simply, “What would it take?” We jumped to action! We designed a switch activated robotic device in which the child could merely touch a button with the end of his limb to be set in motion. As we presented Rahim’s family with the completed product, it was as though we were presenting them with a new future for their young child. In an interview with Washington’s Channel 9 news, Mr. Skene said about Rahim’s mother, “The view of what her child could grow up to be changed in an instant.” I’ve thought about that statement and I can honestly say that my view of what I could grow up to changed in that instant as well.

Mr. Skene embodies the mission of FIRST in his dream to “create a world where science and technology are celebrated … where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes” (Dean Kamen, 2006). Because of Mr. Skene’s dream, students under his tutelage not only dream – they achieve! Mr. Skene is the science and technology hero of Chantilly Robotics!