On that morning eight years ago, the humidity hung heavy in the air. Temperatures would inevitably rise throughout the day creating an oven within the lab, but he paid it no heed. The weather being the least of his concerns. It was the faces that filled his eyes and touched his soul all priming with unrealized potential that held his focus. Uncertainty flooded his mind. His job would no doubt be an uphill climb to help the students before him realize and cultivate their capabilities.
It was mid August and there within the folds of time, he saw himself in the same classroom, in the same chairs as a student eager for instruction. The bunch before him, however, held a different set of priorities and the challenges ahead were far more than that for which he’d bargained. Though the year drug on and threatened to do him in time after time, he clung to the dream over thirty years in the making. Even with the stress of nightly classes to pursue his teaching license and a part-time job to supplement the income he’d lost upon accepting this position, he held fast to one truth. This job was his calling. God had orchestrated every piece and sustained him thus far; he wouldn’t just walk away from it nor give up on his students.
Those first two years were the toughest he’d experienced with even more classes in the summers and weeknights and extra work on the side to keep up with household demands. He even contemplated an offer to return to production with a generous swing in salary. But in the end, though the number was enticing, he knew where he needed to be.
When the morning bell rang in year three there was fresh excitement in his step. This would be the year. The year his countless hours pursuing sponsors and partnerships within the local manufacturing community in preparation would be tested. The year he would bridge the divide between student and potential employer over a fifteen pound student-designed and crafted, fighting machine.
This would be the year of the robot.
The winds of change were stirring. It emanated from him. In one of the poorest counties in the state, he worked with diligence to bring about a difference, setting his students up for success. To give them a win not only in the six-foot fully-enclosed battle arena with a self-named bot, but in their confidence to achieve in teamwork, dedication and work ethic.
Throughout the course of that year and each year since, together his classes have melded ideas, strategies and concepts to fashion a robot which could withstand the attacks of the opposition. Hunks of steel slowly take shape. From raw materials come axles, wheels, frame rails, base plates, weapons, etc. All at the hands-on learning experience of his students working alongside industry leaders. The full spectrum of education from conception to final build is being erected brick-by-brick within that machining lab. One kind of battle to another.
In the past five years, his program has gone from unknown in the battle circuit to a threat. Each year they have finished in the top twenty-five percent, twice over leaving with the first place trophy. And though the competitive spirit is well alive within him, his goal is never simply to win. His goal is to teach. If he can connect the dots between a project of this caliper to the real work that happens every day, he’s already won before ever stepping foot on that transformed gymnasium floor. That’s why every fall his new group of seniors take on the task of building from scratch a brand-new bot with their own tweaks in design, style and name.
This year is no different. April 27th, less than two weeks away, the students of his program will once again take on the battle arena. Young men and women who have invested their time and energy into crafting a bot to face down the adversary.
The road hasn’t been easy. It continues to be a struggle each year, but he’s committed to seeing these students grasp the necessary work of the machining industry. And it isn’t just through a metal robot. He’s taken his students on field trips (some across county and state lines these kids have never before crossed), brought in speakers to share from prominent companies and seen several employed in local machine shops. Daily he models a life of faith and passion before his students. His job is to teach, model and inspire. And that he does.
But then again, maybe you should check out the live broadcast of Thunderstuck, Atech Machinists’ newest robot, on April 27th on the AWT website for yourself.
After all, I may be a little biased. Someday soon, we’ll be bringing home our newest Readling and we’ll get to introduce him or her to the Atech Precision Machining instructor, Mr. Maurer.
But they’ll just call him Papa.
I call him Daddy.