For those who are not a member of the FIRST robotics community, it is difficult to understand how much of a commitment it is to be a FIRST mentor. I am starting to understand after watching ours at work for the last two years. We are fortunate to have one of the best mentors in the state of Oklahoma. His name is Art Waldenville, and he is the definition of a gracious professional. He leads by example and makes sure we understand that the robot isn’t the finished product, we are.
Mr. Waldenville dedicates his time and energy promoting FIRST and what it stands for in our community and across the state. He is always one of the first to answer the call of Regional FIRST Director Harold Holley, and is a huge reason for the tremendous growth of FIRST robotics in Oklahoma over the past 5 years. This year, he supported us as we created and mentored two new FIRST Lego League teams. While volunteering as a judge at the very first Oklahoma FLL championship, he had fun watching both teams excel.
Due to his efforts, Team 1742 has more than tripled in size during his five years as a mentor. He has provided a model for other technology centers and high schools to implement FIRST Robotics. During the build season, he often travels out to other teams helping them in those dark hours when they aren’t sure if they are ever going to get a robot to work. Through him we have learned that no matter how difficult Calculus, Physics, and Engineering are, we all must find time to go out and help others.
We are very proud of our mentor, but we are not the only ones. 2008 Woodie Flowers Award winner Tonya Scott of Team 476 says, “Art is the kind of person that we would all like to be; sincere, thoughtful, kind, and intelligent. He always greets me with a big hug and friendly smile and the compassion he feels for his students is equally noticeable. Art also sees the value of building kids with robots, and he is a true, gracious friend and colleague in FIRST. I know without a doubt that if I call on Art for help or for a spare part, which I have done many times in the past, that he will promptly provide whatever is needed. His heart is truly gracious and he gives so much of himself.”
At competition, he continues to help countless teams with whatever they need. I have learned that people’s true character shows when they are under stress. Under the pressures of an FRC competition, Mr. Waldenville is at his best. He never fails to wear a smile and encourage his students to have fun and learn from others.
Former Shockwave member Melinda Merritt says, “Our lab is his home away from home. He does so much research, and gives up so much time for his students, we couldn’t be more grateful.” As part of Dean’s homework last year we have found that over 80 percent of former Shockwave members are still enrolled as engineering majors. I believe the experience he gives us is a large reason why. “These six weeks (build season) is why I do FIRST. Watching all of you work together, to work through problems, that is what motivates me,” explains Mr. Waldenville.
Our team has enjoyed many successes, including being awarded the Gracious Professionalism Award the past two years. There is an obvious reason for this. We are a reflection of our coach.