First Robotics Competition team 122, the NASA Knights, wishes to nominate mentor Nate Laverdure. William Arthur Ward once said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Only a truly great teacher can motivate students beyond the limits of a classroom. Nate Laverdure is one of those exceptional individuals. As a mechanical engineer, he has proven himself an exceptional mentor. Nate’s zeal for robotics began when he was in high school, where he was initiated into the world of FIRST on Team 612 in Chantilly, Virginia. While in college at Old Domininion University, he continued his passion for FIRST by working with students on our team, NASA Knights Team 122, and he has continued mentoring Team 122 in an official capacity, proudly representing his employer, Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) in Newport News, VA. Nate, as the students call him, is a mentor who not only fits, but embodies the concept of “Inspiring at All Costs”.
This year, when two of our veteran mentors retired, Nate immediately stepped to fill the need. He began over the summer by sending emails with technical challenges to the students such as drive train problems to get them thinking about the math and physics involved in robotics. During off season, he sent out weekly emails to inform all team members of what was accomplished during each of our meetings. As one of our primary mentors this year, Nate is leading the design and fabrication subgroups. He designed, created, and built a prototype robot, which we fondly named the “NateBot”, to allow programming team to practice writing code and test it out on a working robot. To get new students excited through hands-on activities, Nate taught students the basics of building a robot by allowing them to build and program bluebots, smaller robots that can be completed during off season. Parent, Lori Snawder, says, “I have seen Nate draw reluctant and shy students, like my son, into action with his patience and guidance. As a parent, there is no greater joy than seeing your child throroughly enjoy learning something new and learning to engage with others to complete a task. Nate has been an inspiration to my son, me, and countless others. If he sees a student standing around, he engages that student in conversation and pulls him or her into the activities that are taking place by explaining what to do.” Alumni Chelsea Barnes says, “No matter what subgroup students were in, if they needed help with anything, he would be there to help them. He is always there to support and advise new and returning students in any subgroup. He is not just a mentor but a great friend.” All of Team 122 can agree with this sentiment. Nate has also, according to team leader Joanne Talmage, “been instrumental on helping Team 122 continue its dedication with nurturing students’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and applied mathematics (STEAM).”
Outside of Team 122, Nate has worked with many other teams both at competition and during build season to help out wherever there is a need. He mentored and led Team 4394 to the Rookie All Star Award in 2012 with only two weeks of building. The team was late picking up their kit of parts and once they got them, didn’t realize what needed to be done. As soon as Nate was made aware of the situation, he volunteered to mentor them to help them get their robot ready for competition. As student Eric Chai best put it, “Nate was there for many hours to train and mentor us during my first experience with FIRST. At our first competition, he stayed by our side and guided us through challenges such as changing out nonfunctioning parts. Without his leadership, we would have been totally lost and probably would not have had a working robot to play the game.” Another example of Nate reaching outside Team 122 is his dedication to helping the Rembrandts Team 4481 from Holland. During build season, Nate skyped and emailed the Rembrandts to assist them and help them troubleshoot issues they were having. Once they arrived in the US, he continued to assist them and help them get their robot operational for competition.
Like a knight upholding a code of chivalry, Nate strives to incorporate the values of FIRST in every student he meets. As an example of his benevolent nature and while still in college, Nate spear-headed a project in 2009 to build a fishing rod for a man afflicted with cancer, who only had partial use of his arm. He learned of the need through his mother who worked with the man’s sister, and he, along with several of his friends, made the dream a reality by building the fishing rod that attached a mechanical motor to the man’s wheelchair, so he can control the speed at which he can reel in the line with the turn of a dial.
To help share his experiences, Nate gave a presentation on FRC Pneumatics at the 2014 Hampton Roads FRC Summit. His presentation facilitated a discussion about the reasons why a pneumatic actuation system might be a good choice in many FRC applications, developed a symbolic language which can be used to describe and design pneumatic systems, and gave solutions to many of the common problems that FRC pneumatics face in operation.
Nate has shown himself to be a leader in both our robotics team and others and has embodied the ideals of FIRST, so we believe he deserves to be honored with the Woodie Flowers award.