FIRST Senior Mentor Bios
Dana Aucoin was introduced to FIRST when her youngest son became interested in the LEGO RCX robot. At the time she was a teacher at her son’s school and saw the need for a robotics program. Aucoin introduced FIRST to the school by starting a middle school robotics class. She co-coached an after school team with her husband for the next five years. During this time she also helped start FIRST LEGO League and Junior FIRST LEGO League teams at five local Boys & Girls Clubs. Deciding that she wanted to get involved in a broader way, Aucoin began volunteering as a Project Judge and Referee in FLL state events and several World Championships. She also volunteers as Field Reset and Scorekeeper in FIRST Robotics Competition D.C. and Chesapeake regionals. For the last three years, Aucoin has served as the MD FLL Committee chairperson. Aucoin uses her background in teaching to develop and run robotics camps that employ FIRST alumni as counselors. She continues to support robotics programs and mentor teams at Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and many public and private schools in Washington, D.C., Annapolis, MD, and Baltimore, MD.
Lisa Beckwith joined the FIRST family her freshman year of high school. She continued her four years on the Technokats Robotics Team 45. Lisa continued her passion for FIRST while attending Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN as a mentor on the Westside Boiler Invasion Team 461. Beckwith then started her career as a Technology Education Teacher at Knightstown High School. While at Knightstown, she continued with FIRST and coached team 3947, The Last Crusaders.Beckwith has now found a new home and is working in Indianapolis, IN in Wayne Township School District. She works at Chapel Hill 7th & 8th Grade Center as a Project Lead the Way Technology Education Teacher. Beckwith loves being part of the FIRST family but some of her other hobbies are painting, swimming, paintballing, camping, and lots more of trying new things and being adventurous.
Teri Benart has 20+ years of experience in the Information Technology field. She has done both hardware and software requirements, architecture, design, engineering and project management. She has managed large global projects and budgets as part of her role in IT. Benart was introduced to FIRST in 2008 by her son and mentored Team 2085 from Vacaville, CA until 2012. She has also participated in FIRST as a judge for both the FLL and FRC in the northern California Region and at Championships for FRC in 2011. She serves on the regional planning committee for the Sacramento Regional and is the Regional Planning Committee Chair for 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Ron Borden has been involved in FIRST since 2002. He works at Bausch + Lomb as the FIRST Program Director. He serves on the Finger Lakes Regional Planning Committee and is one of the two charter members of the committee. He was the Chairperson from 2002 until 2009. Borden Mentors 5
Don Brobst has over 30 years of experience in software and systems engineering in defining requirements and project management. Brobst is a certified PMP and has done extensive work in process improvement. He is also a retired Naval Reservist as well as a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park. Brobst is active in the Falls Church community and currently serves as the Chair of the City’s Housing Commission. He has been a mentor to FIRST Team 1418, and this is his 3rd year as a FIRST Senior Mentor for the DC area.
Sydney Buckner is a neuroscience undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She joined the FIRST community in 2011 as the founding member of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 4265 The Secret City Wildbots and fell in love with the mission of FIRST. She served as project manager for three years and was a Dean's List finalist at the Smoky Mountain regional in 2012. Through FRC, she had the opportunity to mentor multiple Jr.FLL and FLL teams in her area in addition to judging FLL tournaments at both the regional and state level. Having contracted a terminal case of FIRST fever, she is enthusiastic to stay involved as a FIRST Senior Mentor and improve, grow, and sustain FIRST in the state of Tennessee.
Emmaly Burklund’s journey with FIRST started with her son, Jordan, when he wanted to be engaged with a FIRST team. After a successful start in FIRST LEGO® League, the team took on the challenge of FIRST Tech Challenge which developed into Team Beta 3550. Since Burklund and her son couldn’t get enough of FIRST, they also founded a collaborative FIRST Robotics Competition team, ASAP 4646. Over 7 years, Burklund coached 9 seasons of FIRST: two with FLL, five with FTC, and two with FRC. She has also hosted qualifying tournaments, workshops, and team-to-team mentoring sessions. Besides volunteering at events, Burklund enjoys personally reaching out to coaches and teams with 1-on-1 coaching and support. After FTC Team Beta retired, Burklund and her son continued the partnerships with area organizations to start-up the Iowa STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) Innovation Zone to inspire students to become innovators through mentor-based programs. Burklund also enjoys quilting, mushroom hunting, and providing respite care for young children with special medical needs. Her personal mission is “creating opportunities for people to apply their passions.” One of her latest projects has been developing strengths-based teams. Burklund’s top 5 Gallup strengths themes are: ideation, achiever, input, connectedness, and individualization.
Diane Cabiness began her journey with FIRST in 2011 when her son joined FIRST Robotics Competition Team 2338. Initially, she was a parent volunteer but her involvement grew and she became one of the lead mentors. Cabiness has volunteered as a team queuer when her team competed at Midwest, Queen City, Wisconsin, and Crossroads Regionals. She has been meeting with parents and educators to gain support for FRC and to grow Junior FIRST LEGO® League and FIRST LEGO® League in her community, and has helped to create and support 10 new FLL teams. She joined the Midwest Planning Committee in 2013. Cabiness worked for Bell Laboratories (now Alcatel-Lucent) as an engineer. She was a Charter member of the local Rotary club and she created a RoboBooster group for her FRC team. Cabiness looks forward to working with all FIRST programs in Illinois and helping to “Make It Loud.”
Kristin Clemons lifelong passion for horses led her to a career in the equine industry. As a farm manager, horse breeder and trainer, Clemons found that she truly enjoyed coaching youth riders. Inspiring teens to work hard to achieve their goals became as big of a focus as the horses had been for her. After retiring from competitive riding and showing on a professional level, Clemons sought out opportunities to volunteer that would allow her to continue to impact youth in a positive manner. When Clemons was introduced to FIRST through her son’s involvement with the program, her background in coaching teens made working with robotics teams an easy transition. Clemons mentors both FTC and FRC teams as well as serving as a friendly reviewer and judge for Jr.FLL and FLL.
Daniel Eiland has been involved in leading young adults for many years. He has been teaching for four years at Woodlawn High School where he teaches Advanced Placement history and Engineering classes. He is also the coach of the first FRC team in the Baton Rouge area. Prior to teaching, Eiland worked for the Center for Computation and Technology at Louisiana State University where, as the Audio/Video Coordinator, he researched video based synchronous and asynchronous teaching methods and designed technology rich classrooms. Eiland received a Masters degree in Education from LSU and a Bachelor of Arts in Education degree from Southeastern Louisiana University. Eiland continues to work each year with his FRC team, Panthrobotics, as well as coordinating the Red Stick Rumble, Louisiana’s annual Off-Season FIRST Robotics Event.
Damian “Chip” Eveland was introduced to FIRST in 1996 as a student participant with FIRST Robotics Competition Team 171, The Cheese Curd Herd, of Platteville, Wisconsin. Since his student participation, Eveland has continued to mentor his hometown team, and more recently has also provided mentorship to FRC Team 1306 BadgerBOTS of Madison, Wisconsin. He has proudly volunteered his time and talents to support FRC and FIRST LEGO League events in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. Eveland currently resides in Madison, WI and is employed in the health care administration field.
Bio coming soon!
Angie Fontanilla has taken on many volunteer roles for FIRST in the Washington DC/Virginia area. She has volunteered as a coach and mentor for Jr. FLL, FLL and FRC teams. As a PTA volunteer for the elementary school within her community, Fontanilla took on the role of Robotics Program Administrator. She manages the school’s year-round robotics program which includes Jr. FLL, FLL and after-school robotics classes. In 2011, Fontanilla volunteered as the Communications Director for the VA/DC FLL region to represent the organization at STEM outreach events in the DC Metro area. She is also a speaker at Jr.FLL and FLL coach training sessions and advises other groups on how to start a Jr. FLL/FLL team in their community. Fontanilla coordinated the communication between VA/DC FLL teams and Sweden FLL teams who participated in the 2012 FLL Innovation Ambassador Program. This culminated in a presentation at the Swedish Embassy in Washington DC on December 2012. She also escorted this Swedish FLL team to Harrisonburg, Virginia so they can participate in the 2012 VADC FLL Regional Championship Tournament as a guest FLL team. Aside from her volunteer responsibilities with VADC FLL, Fontanilla worked closely with Virginia FIRST, DC FIRST and Maryland FIRST to recruit Jr.FLL and FLL teams as exhibitors for large STEM events such as the USA Science & Engineering Festival. She also served as a FIRST volunteer during the DC FRC Regional tournament.
Jaime Ford is a graduate from West Virginia University (WVU) with a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal and Veterinary Science. Ford also obtained a secondary teaching certification in Biology, General Science, and Physical Science from Fairmont State University (FSU). She is currently working towards a Master’s in Education in Digital Media and New Literacies at FSU, which will be finished in December 2014. Ford is the Coordinator and Education Specialist for STEM-based student workshops at NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Educator Resource Center (ERC) in Fairmont, WV. As a STEM educator, this includes teaching students of WV and FLL teams how to program LEGO robots utilizing the MINDSTORMS platform. Ford was introduced to FIRST during a FLL tournament as a judge in 2012, in which she immediately fell in love with the concepts and mission statement of the FIRST team. She has since worked diligently in aiding FIRST robotics growth in her state.
Ty Fredriks is excited about serving as a FIRST Senior Mentor. After 20 years in retail and finishing his initial career as a Store Manager for a major drug store chain, Fredriks switched to the much more rewarding task of educating tomorrow's leaders. He teaches Earth Science, Conceptual Physics, and Introduction to Education, and loves inspiring his students to find a passion for Science that they didn't know they had. As a science teacher at 600-student Orcutt Academy High School on California's Central Coast, Fredriks works hard to inspire students to pursue STEM careers by running his school's FRC team as well as two FLL tournaments each year. His high schoolers are mentored by engineers from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, and they, in turn, mentor the elementary and junior high school students that participate in FLL. STEM education is alive and well in California!
Henry Graham began his involvement with FIRST in 2003. Since that time he has mentored four different FRC teams. He joined the St. Louis Regional Planning Committee in 2005. Since joining the Planning Committee he has volunteered at local FLL, FTC and FRC events as a head queuer, robot inspector and field setup, among other things. Graham retired from McDonnell Douglas and The Boeing Company where he worked as a design engineer and program analyst. He has a degree in Technical Aeronautics and a Masters in Business Management. Graham is involved as a mentor with an inner-city youth group, where the focus is on teaching personal responsibility and education as the foundation for a successful future. He is also a member of the Optimist Club - a friend of youth organization, as well as a member of the Boeing Employee Mentoring Robotics Club, where Boeing employees get together to learn and teach one another how to become better Mentors.
Al Gritzmacher became a mentor for Team 378 in Newfane NY when his son was on the team. He was a founding member of Team 1507 in Lockport and has been working with that team ever since. He has served as a mentor in areas such as programming, electrical wiring and web design. Gritzmacher was a skilled trades electrician for Delphi Corp. in Lockport, previously GM and Harrison Radiator. He is now retired. He has been an Amateur Radio operator for nearly 40 years, an avid skier, cyclist, and photographer. For the past several years, he has been volunteering at regionals and championships to support FRC. Working with a FRC team for the past 10+ years has allowed him to witness first-hand the positive effect FIRST has on our young people.
Keith Hall has more than twenty years’ experience in the mainframe computer industry. He was recruited into FIRST in 2007 by a local FRC team after they discovered he was teaching an after school introduction to robotics class at a nearby high school. He is a member of the Midwest Regional Planning Committee, mentors FRC team 2171, and judges at a FLL Qualifying Tournament. Hall is attending Purdue Calumet, studying physics and mathematics while working towards a license to teach high school sciences.
Dana Henry has worked for the United Technologies business unit, Hamilton Sundstrand/Space Systems for 32 years, building various life support systems for NASA and the US Navy, including the EMU (extravehicular mobility unit, the space suit), oxygen generation, life support, cooling and gas management systems for the NASA Space Shuttle, International Space Station and US Navy submarines. In 2002, Henry co-founded Rosie Robotics, FRC 839, and in 2005 co-founded FTC 839 with the late John Burns. Since then, Henry has expanded FIRST to all schools in all grade levels in Agawam, MA, founded the Agawam Robotics Education Association, Inc. a 501(c) (3) and currently serves as President and CEO. He has organized FLL state qualifying tournaments for 6 years and has been a FRC Championship Inspector for 9 years. Henry is a member of the New England District Operations Committee and an FRC Lead Robot Inspector. He has also presented various training modules to teams around New England and at Kick off in Manchester, NH. Topics include rookie FRC/FTC/FLL team start up, Mentor training, veteran team sustainability, and how to shape local politics for the support of FIRST.
Mike Henry has a Master of Science in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education from Baylor University. During his 25 years of experience as an educator, Henry has been involved in developing and implementing many space education projects. He designed, built, and operated a classroom simulation involving a space flight simulator and a mission control simulator for students in which “space flights” were conducted. In addition, for the past nine years he was the faculty advisor for a high school robotics team that designed, built, and operated robots in a competitive event. His team was a Regional winner twice during the nine year period. In 2008, after 25 years of teaching, Henry received the news that he had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and he retired from teaching in order to undergo chemotherapy for the cancer. He is now been cancer free since April 2009. For 2009 and 2010, Mr. Henry worked as a consultant and mentor for the Robert E. Lee High School STEM Academy robotics programs. In 2011, FRC Team 457 became active after a two year hiatus, and he is now mentoring that team again. Team 457 was a member of the winning alliance at the 2012 Alamo Regional in San Antonio and advanced to the Championship in St. Louis.
Evan Hochstein joined FIRST in 2008 as a founding student on FRC Team 2470 from Bloomington, Minnesota. Hochstein has mentored five FIRST teams in Bloomington and loves the culture and community FIRST creates. He is currently working at one of FRC Team 2470’s primary sponsors, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, as a software intern while he finishes his electrical engineering degree at Dunwoody College of Technology. Hochstein also founded a FIRST Alumni Organization, called GO FIRST at Dunwoody, to support FIRST teams throughout the state. He received a Woodie Flowers Finalist Award in 2013 at the 10,000 Lakes Regional in Minnesota after being nominated by the students on FRC Team 2470. Hochstein has also presented at the GO FIRST Summer Robotics Summit, a FIRST Championship Conference, and has assisted in leading Mentor Roundtables.
Ted Hood was introduced to FIRST when he attended an FLL summer camp with his daughter. Since then, he has been a Coach, Mentor and Volunteer for all levels of FIRST. He has volunteered in roles such as Judge, Referee, Volunteer Coordinator, and Tournament Director for FLL, FTC and FRC events in Ohio. Hood also works with the Dayton Regional STEM School as a Robotics Advisor and has worked as an aircraft Avionics Technician. Currently, Hood manages a training program for over 64,000 people. He uses his background in Electronics and Education to help every team he mentors. Hood’s strengths in these areas help him relate to both the kids and FIRST.
Eileen Kahn has a background in Public Relations and Marketing. She became involved in education in 1999, by working with after school programs. She got involved with FIRST when her oldest child was in 9th grade (in 2004) as the team mom. When the program needed a teacher she earned her teaching credentials and went to work officially as a teacher with the ROP Program at Beverly Hills High School. She started a robotics entrepreneurship program at BHHS and runs her classes and program using a corporate model. Kahn maintains three classes at BHHS and her team, 1515, which usually has 80-100 members each year. She has successfully mentored 12 teams including 3 internationally. Kahn has served as a Google On Air Education Presenter for robotics. She speaks five languages fluently and loves working with motivated students.
Kathie Kentfield has been a volunteer with FIRST since 2001. She became a non-technical mentor with RAGE FRC 173 when her son joined the team. During her time with RAGE, Kentfield realized there was a need for providing support to mentors who work in the non-technical areas and co-founded NEMO (Non-Engineering Mentor Organization). NEMO has grown to over 800 members and publishes white papers on its website; www.firstnemo.org. Kentfield is a former FTC Affiliate Partner and volunteers for Jr.FLL, FLL, FTC, and FRC events. She is currently serving on the CT FIRST State Operating Committee, CT FIRST Executive Advisory Board and NE FIRST Field Operations Committee.
Debbie Kerr has been involved with FIRST since 2007 when her oldest son joined FLL. She began as a parent volunteer for her son’s FLL team. The next year, Kerr helped organize and coach a rookie Jr.FLL team. When her oldest transitioned to a rookie FTC team and a rookie FRC team sponsored by Oregon City School District, she was closely involved as a parent volunteer. At its first Portland Autodesk Regional, Team 2550 won Rookie All-Star and advanced to worlds in Atlanta, Georgia. Kerr supported the team at worlds twice, and caught the vision and the mission of FIRST. Kerr graduated from BYU in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science and a minor in Business.
Fredi is the lead mentor for the Falcon Robotics team 842 at Carl Hayden High School. He is a Marine Science teacher at the high school and is also the program director of the Marine Science program there. Fredi is also part of the instructional cabinet at the school and is active in developing the programs that help improve the school. He is also the vice president of APASE, Arizona Promoters of Applied Science in Education. APASE is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing extracurricular STEM competitions to the students of Arizona and to bring students from other states to Arizona to compete. The organization has a signature event that is now in its 7th year: NURC, the National Underwater Robotics Challenge. Lajvardi has won many awards such as the National Educator of the Year from IEEE, honorable mention for Educator of the Year from ASME, and he is a Woodie Flowers Regional award winner. His teams have won many awards including the Chairman's Award at FIRST Championships, National Champions at the MATE National ROV Championships, National Winner of the Spirit of Innovation, Pete Conrad Awards, and they have placed 12th out of 30 universities at the AUVSI and ONR Robosub Competitions.
Fiona Last-Powell has extensive work experience as an educator for all ages from toddlers to adults. As Science Coordinator for Moseley Elementary School in Coventry, England, she was responsible for designing, writing and supporting colleagues to implement an updated science curriculum throughout the school. She also served as IT support, introducing new technology to the whole institution from preschoolers to experienced teachers. For the last twenty years Last-Powell has been deeply involved in supporting the homeschooling communities of NY, CT and NC. Her roles have included leadership for homeschooling organizations, educational consulting for individuals and groups, and curriculum design. She has served in multiple capacities on several local and regional organizing committees and boards.
Andy Marshall has been working with scientists and engineers of all ages for over 20 years. Marshall’s technical experience includes Software, Electrical, Mechanical, and System design/test/manufacturing; working with great FIRST partners of National Instruments, Rockwell Collins, John Deere, and many others. Marshall works to create opportunities for folks to learn through experience and has plenty of stories to share. Marshall has been privileged to be a Judge Advisor for FTC Iowa, a Judge at FIRST World Championship, and FLL Judge at regional and State Championship.
Ben Martin is entering his tenth year with FIRST. Martin was on FRC Team 234, CyberBlue, in high school for four years. During that time, he also mentored a middle school FTC team. In college, Martin mentored FRC Team 1747, Harrison Boiler Robotics, for four years at Purdue University. He was a member of Purdue FIRST Programs, a Purdue FIRST-affiliated organization that promotes STEM education in local schools and the state of Indiana. Martin graduated from Purdue University in May 2012 with a degree in Industrial Engineering and minors in Mechanical Engineering and Psychology. He currently works for St. Onge Company, a global supply chain consulting company, as a Project Engineer.
Kevin McKone has been teaching University Physics for the last 15 years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Co-Lin) in Wesson, MS. Along with his teaching responsibilities, he is the Science Chair at Co-Lin and a mentor and cofounder of the college robotics team. McKone has coached FIRST LEGO® League, mentored FIRST Tech Challenge and has been the lead robot inspector for FIRST Tech Challenge in the state of Mississippi for the last two years. Before McKone started teaching, he worked for the Naval Oceanographic Office as an oceanographer. He spent two months per year at sea collecting and analyzing oceanographic data. McKone has spent time researching topographic waves, and the seasonal signal in the Gulf Stream.
Jean “Mama Jaws” Melech’s initial exposure to FIRST was in 2009 when her son joined FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1710. She was hooked when she saw firsthand the difference FIRST makes in students’ lives, the skill set and life lessons learned, and the confidence that the FIRST program instills in the team members. In 2009, she became a team mentor for FRC Team 1710, and in 2012 added FIRST LEGO® League Volunteer Coordinator for the local qualifier to her duties. Today, she continues to find ways to fuel her passion for FIRST. Melech’s professional career has spanned from Corporate Sales Manager, Database Marketing Manager, Data Scientist, Project/Technical Implementation Engineer, Marketing Director, Vice President of Marketing, to Owner/President/CEO of JMD Marketing Solutions.
Brenda Meyer has retired from teaching math, programming, and coordinating technology for 30 years. As Middle School Technology Coordinator for the last 22 years, she enjoyed taking care of the technology needs--hardware, software, professional development, and personal devices--of her colleagues and students. Teaching classes of computer-based learning platforms provided stimulation and motivation to enthusiastic, talented, and creative students and teachers of all learning styles. The robotics club that a colleague and Meyer started two years ago helped students, through competition, make decisions, solve problems, and think critically. She is now looking forward to continuing the relationship with FIRST that was begun with that club.
Andy Milluzzi has had a passion for engineering for as long as he can remember. Currently working on his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, Milluzzi earned a BS in Computer Engineering and a BS in Software Engineering from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and a MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Florida. He has been volunteering for FIRST for the past 7 years, filling roles from event staff, to judging, to coaching and mentoring teams. Milluzzi’s passion for engineering extends beyond FIRST. Professionally, his tenure includes engineering positions at Microsoft and National Instruments. Milluzzi, an Eagle Scout, also volunteers with the Alachua District of the North Florida Council, serving on the District STEM Committee and as a merit badge counselor for many of the STEM related merit badges. He is also a LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Partner, supporting people all over the world as they dive into the field of engineering.
John Novak has been an employee of Baxter Healthcare Inc. for 35 years as a manufacturing controls system engineer and project manager. Novak was a founding mentor of FIRST Robotics Competition Team 16, The Baxter Bomb Squad in 1996 and has been a mentor on the team ever since. He was awarded the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award in 2005 and the prestigious Woodie Flowers Award in 2009. Novak was also involved in initiating FIRST LEGO® League in Arkansas 1999 and FIRST Tech Challenge (initially FVC) in 1996. After helping coach a few Lego and FTC teams he is currently the FTA for The State FTC tournament and aids the State FLL Championship. Novak is semi-retiring from work at Baxter to devote more time to expanding FIRST programs around the state of Arkansas. His goals are to aid in creating strong, sustainable teams across the state and to support their growth.
Bio coming soon!
Tyler Olds has been in the FIRST programs for 15 seasons starting as a freshman in the FIRST Robotics Competition in 2001. Since then he has continued on as a volunteer emceeing in several events including FIRST LEGO®League and FRC regional competitions, Championships and the Indiana Robotics Invitational. In 2012 he was recognized with the Volunteer of the Year award at the Wisconsin Regional. Olds is also the lead mentor for FIRST Team 2826 Wave Robotics out of Oshkosh Wisconsin. His passion lies in giving back to the FIRST community by inspiring sustainable growth and building strong student and adult leaders.
Linda Pham was introduced to FIRST when her daughter joined an FLL team in September of 2010. By mid-season, she became a co-Coach and then continued to coach FLL the following year. Since the team has grown older, Pham is now coaching FTC team 5875 from Marietta, Georgia. Over the years Pham has volunteered as a Judge, Referee, Hardware Inspector and Mentor for many new coaches in FLL and FTC. In 2012 Pham helped the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta to expand their STEM program by mentoring 12 new FLL teams. Before discovering FIRST, she homeschooled her children and was very involved in all of their activities.
Rachel Riquelme is the Children’s Minister at High Street Baptist Church in Somerset, KY and the Co-Founder of Project 58:10 a non- profit organization that provides weekend backpacks of food for approximately 500 students who have little access to food when they are away from school. Riquelme is very involved in her community and in her local school system where she mentors a local FIRST robotics team, leads science and STEM related camps, teaches leadership in various programs, and volunteers in classrooms throughout the school year.
Roger Riquelme has been involved in FIRST since 2001; first as a student team member and then as a mentor. While in high school, he was part of team 312 (Heatwave) in St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating, he attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. While in college, he was one of the founding mentors of team 1369 (Minotaur), which he mentored from 2004-2008. After graduating in 2008, he had the opportunity to serve as a technical mentor for team 461 (West Side Boiler Invasion). Riquelme currently teaches PLTW Pre-Engineering courses at Southwestern High School and coaches team 3259 (The Thoroughbots), which he helped establish in 2010.
Javier Saenz is an engineering physics student at the University of Texas at Brownsville, where he also works as a developmental math tutor. Saenz has been involved with FIRST for three years, mentoring Team 2833 for the FRC Lone Star Regional and as a Volunteer for a FTC event held this year in Brownsville, TX. Saenz is looking forward to the opportunities that come with being a Senior Mentor, especially within the Brownsville area where there is much unchartered territory for FIRST.
Laurie Shimizu got involved with FIRST when her oldest child was in 8th grade by helping The Green Machine FRC Team 1816 during the team’s 2005-06 rookie season. The team went to Championships and she was instantly hooked by the comradery and enthusiasm of the students and adult volunteers. A 25 year-journalism veteran with extensive work experience as a writer and editor, she stepped up to become 1816s communications mentor and team manager, helping guide web, social media and other non-technical aspects of the team. In 2008, she took on the added responsibilities of Volunteer Coordinator for what was then one Minnesota Regional competition. She now coordinates the volunteers for four FIRST competition events, both double-regionals in Minneapolis and Duluth, plus the Minnesota State High School League Championship. Shimizu works also with FTC and FLL teams in Minnesota, and helps judge at FTC events.
Melody Simoncic has been involved in FIRST for more than ten years. Her children were involved and brought her into the fold. Simoncic has since formed four FIRST Robotics Competition teams, assisted with technology support with FIRST in her local school district, and has volunteered at local Regional events for the last 9 years, as well as the Las Vegas Regional for the last five years. Simoncic enjoys being part of an organization that spurs young people to be creative and passionate about their future. She believes that being a positive role model and mentor is important for society. Her favorite quote from a parent is: “Because of you, my son’s life is forever changed for the better.”
Rick Sisk found the magic of FIRST when he helped his wife Dona start a rookie FRC Team in 2008. Since then, he has helped start and mentor several rookie teams, as well as acted as a judge at the Los Angeles and Phoenix regionals and the Championship in Atlanta. Sisk served in the Air Force at Langley AFB in VA. This is where he learned about computer programming, which led to his current position at Sage Software in Irvine, designing applications that run many small and medium-sized businesses around the world.
George Tan is an Electrical Engineering student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Tan has been involved in FIRST since 2006 as a founding student on FRC Team 1817. Since that time, Tan has founded and mentored numerous FLL, FTC, and FRC teams in the Lubbock area. Tan is a former medic in the Texas Army National Guard who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tan is currently the team leader for FRC team 1817 and received the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award at the 2014 Hub City Regional. Tan is also involved in several other STEM-related outreach events such as Shake Hands with your Future, Science is a Girl Thing, and Catch an Engineer Bug.
Eric VanBuren has been involved with FIRST for four years starting when his son joined a FRC team. It wasn’t long until he became hooked on FIRST and switched his focus from the design and fabrication of the robot to being the lead mentor focusing on strengthening the teams Outreach, Marketing, Media, and Web performance. VanBuren has a background as a small business owner, auto and truck mechanic, landlord, remodeling, and sales.
Joe “Super Nerd” Varnell has been involved in FIRST since 2009 when he went to the first FIRST Dallas Regional as a mentor and caught the FIRST Bug. His day job is as an Engineer at Lockheed Martin where he has worked in Software, Systems, Electrical, and now Test Engineering groups where he works on everything from guidance systems to missile simulations. Varnell started out as a Mentor for a FRC team but was soon involved in helping out rookie FRC teams, mentoring FLL teams, and conducting workshops for FRC and FLL teams. Varnell now also volunteers at FRC events as FTA and other positions and is a FLL Qualifier Head Referee. Varnell has a BS Degree in Math, builds and programs his own robots at home, and believes FIRST Robotics is the ‘Nerdvana’ he’s been looking for since he was a kid.
Senior Mentors in Canada
George Chisholm is a retired high school technology teacher with over thirty years experience with the Halton District School Board in Ontario. He is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. Chisholm is a founding mentor of FIRST Team 1334, The Red Devils. He was named a Woodie Flowers Finalist at the Waterloo Regional in 2011. In his role with 1334, he has helped start and mentor several FRC teams across Canada. Chisholm served for 23 years in Canada’s Reserve Army retiring with the rank of captain. In his “spare” time, he is the President of the Oakville Historical Society, co-chairs the property committee at his church, is a Scottish Country and Longsword dancer and travels internationally with his wife.
Joel Gallant has extensive experience with the FIRST Robotics Competition in Western Canada. He has developed the program in his region for the past 4 years, going from 2 to over 25 teams and a full regional competition. He has been a part of the board of directors from the very beginning, and helped in technical roles for many years. Joel's main work has been the creation of a sustainable curriculum model. By completing 6 courses per year, students in the region are given scholarships that go towards a team's registration cost. This funding model works using Alberta's credit system, with support from a local online learning centre. Joel has written all of the courses, and has pushed to make the content free and available to all who would benefit from it.
Paul Keenan was a teacher for 31 years in the Toronto area. Keenan started out as an elementary French teacher and for the last twenty-five years was a high school Computer Science teacher. Even before Keenan became a teacher he was involved in community coaching of hockey. The coaching continued throughout Keenan’s teaching career but also included football, basketball and softball. Keenan’s last 3 years as a teacher included starting an FRC team at ST. Robert CHS in Thornhill. Along with another key mentor, Bob Chirrey, FRC Team 4001 developed into a very competitive team.
Craig Maynard has been using robotics as a means to encourage STEM principles since the early 80’s where he founded and led the Western Canadian Robotics Society and Robotgames. Maynard served as the vice-chair of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society; spearheaded FIRST LEGO® League’s entry into Alberta; mentored several FLL and FRC teams; and has developed dozens of robotics kits which mimic biological behavior in his company, JCM InVentures Inc. He was also instrumental in bringing the Western Canadian Regional FRC event to Alberta and continues to support it enthusiastically. Maynard was proud to mentor the amazing rookie team 4334 at SAIT in 2012 where they succeeded all the way to the Einstein Field and the IRI Invitational. Maynard was awarded the 2013 Woodie Flowers Finalist Award for the Western Canadian Regional. Maynard has had a long career as an educator since 1982 at SAIT Polytechnic where he has taught electronics, embedded controllers, C programming, UNIX, networking, computer maintenance, capstone projects, and VHDL programming. He is currently the lead instructor in Robotics and Automation in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at SAIT and continues to innovate and enhance learning using cutting edge pedagogical techniques.
Lynn Rampertab’s background is rooted in Accounting. At KPMG, she worked with large audit clients, small business and forensic accounting. After KPMG, she was a Senior Accountant for Dev-Con, a small real estate development company. Rampertab was introduced to FIRST in 2008 by her children and has been a non-technical mentor for team 3161 since 2010. She has served as the FLL Tournament Director for Halton Regional Qualifiers and The Toronto District School Board. Rampertab has served as a key planning committee member for the two FLL Provincial Championships since 2010 and most recently, the FLL International Open in 2014.