TechFlow Employee Owner Sarah Rodriguez Receives Woodie Flowers Finalist Award

TechFlow is proud to share that one of its employee owners, Sarah Rodriguez, has received the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award for her dedication as a Mentor for FIRST Robotics Team Spyder 1622!

FIRST ® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an organization that prepares young people (Pre-K – 12) for the future through a suite of inclusive, team-based robotics programs. It is powered by a global support system that includes volunteers like Sarah, educators, and sponsors including companies like TechFlow. The mission of FIRST is “to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

In fact, this is exactly how Sarah discovered FIRST. She joined the FIRST Robotics team in her senior year of high school and learned about programming and building robots. She was hooked! She returned a few years after graduation to become a mentor for her high school team, which she has been committed to for the past decade. In that same time, she also completed her B.S. degree in Computer Science, joined the workforce and is now a Senior Application Developer at TechFlow.

The Woodie Flowers Finalist Award is presented to an outstanding Mentor in the FIRST Robotics Competition who best leads, inspires, teaches, and empowers their team using excellent communication skills. The Woodie Flowers Award, founded in 1996 by Dr. William Murphy, celebrates FIRST Robotics’ outstanding mentors. Woodie Flowers Award winners demonstrate effective communication in the art and science of engineering and design.

Woodie C. Flowers is an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His specialty areas are engineering design and product development, he holds the Pappalardo Professorship, and is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow. In 1974, he took over MIT’s “Introduction to Design” class (coursebook code: 2.70), in which he gave sophomores a set of random parts such as small motors, wire, and tongue depressors. Students were told to build a device that would perform some specific function. Professor Flowers turned the competition into something like a sporting event, with dynamic challenges for the robots. The competition was held in large MIT classrooms and later, gymnasiums. Many MIT alumni joke that it’s the school’s version of Homecoming. The competition was broadcast on PBS’ “Discover the World of Science” throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.

In 1989, Professor Flowers co-founded the FIRST Robotics Competition and has been a national advisor ever since. Each year, the Woodie Flowers Award is given by FIRST to one mentor for his or her contributions to the students on their team. Flowers was the first recipient of the award, which began in 1996. Students submit an essay that nominates one mentor from their team for consideration. Following is the team’s submission for Sarah who is a programming mentor on Team Spyder:

“As a FIRST Alumni and 10-year Team Spyder 1622 mentor, Sarah Rodriguez began her journey impacting the STEM community by coaching FIRST Teams. Sarah is dedicated to FIRST’s ideals as she helps build our self-confidence through teaching us leadership. She is our cheerleader through challenging times, always encouraging, “If you fail, that’s ok, try again” and has kept us going through the years.

Sarah is there to support us in every step of the way, whether it is in the machine shop, behind a computer, using a tool or assembling the robot.

She goes out of her way to explain computational, dynamic, and engineering concepts through programming and encourages involvement of all students. For one instance, we were having trouble assembling a chain, Sarah demonstrated how to use the tools to join and detach the chain. With electrical and pneumatics, she has guided us through diagrams to get started on creating the robot. Outside of the shop, Sarah is there with open ears to provide feedback for our team ideas and proposals. Behind the computer, she helps us debug our programs. She encourages us to read our responses out loud to make sure it is robust. We had an idea to create sub teams and Sarah challenged us to include the Agile business model to make it ironclad. She is always pushing us to be better.

Her incredible impact goes beyond our team to more of the FIRST community by working as one of the FLL Partners for Southern California. In her third year, Sarah’s local impact spreads through FIRST LEGO League, impacting about 500 FIRST LEGO League Challenge teams and about 150 FIRST LEGO League Explore teams. For the past 10 years, she’s offered apprenticeships to us with organizing the competition events with her. The current and past Spyders have taken part and learned leadership, time management, and organization skills when it comes to running events. Through Women in STEM activities, Sarah inspired us as a role model by being a consistent woman mentor on the team who pursues a STEM career.

Sarah continuously encourages us to share the knowledge we acquired by teaching other team members to keep the team sustainable. She is always open to questions, discussions, and challenges. As well as being supportive of our crazy ideas and helping us when we need concepts explained in a different way.

Sarah has made an immense impact on our team, past and current. She’s been an emotional pillar for many students while they are on the team and after they have graduated. She has assisted alumni with concerns about college, majors, or job opportunities. FIRST Team Spyder would not be the same without her great impact on young impressionable minds in STEM.

Sarah’s been an everlasting Mentor to many Spyders, which is why Sarah has proven to be the best candidate for the Woodie Flowers Award.”

As a Finalist Award winner for the San Diego region, Sarah is up for consideration for the Woodie Flowers Award which will be presented at the annual FIRST Championship to be held in Houston, April 20 – 23, 2022. We wish her luck as we recognize her dedication to her FIRST Robotics team and to our TechFlow customers, which makes her unquestionably our champion!

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