Woodie Flowers Nomination: Tom Ferguson

Only mentors who have worked with us for as long as Tom Ferguson understand the intensity and relish the pressure of FIRST. “It’s the most stressful activity I have ever taken part in,” he says, “but I’m totally addicted.” More than a professional engineer, Tom is a mentor we can rely on to not only support us but also to lead us through the six frenzied weeks we have to build a competitive robot. The prestigious Woodie Flowers Award, which has been given to Tom in recognition of these values before, is the least we can do to honor the commitment that Tom has given to us.

Tom Ferguson, the Vice President of Engineering at the industry-leading systems design firm Cox and Company, Inc., brings to our lab professional expertise that is more often found around boardroom tables than at high schools. When we work on our projects, he explains the same concepts he uses on the job in unconventional but engaging ways, such as making PowerPoint presentations to convey the basics about the key elements of the robot. He even told a story to our programmers about his son’s high school science fair project to demonstrate the use of an accelerometer to calculate distance traveled. It is Tom’s patient lessons that bestow upon everyone he touches the ability to take the concepts he teaches and forge ingenious solutions out of them.

Through the seven years he’s been working with us, we have yet to find a situation in which Tom hasn’t sacrificed something in an effort to help us. Father of twins on the team who have become mentors themselves, Tom has given up his time, his home, and his expertise to Team 694 so that we can achieve our goals. He stays with us during meetings that end late in the night and also hosts planning meetings at his own home when the lab is unavailable to us. Last year, when our robot was threatened by a weight problem, he brought in aluminum honeycomb used to construct the ramps. His devotion is a crucial element of our team, and even Sam Crisantos concedes that “Tom is the person without whom we wouldn’t have a robot.”

As a professional privy to the demands of the business world, Tom tries to foster responsibility and leadership skills in the students of Team 694. Not only does he give us bits of wisdom like “Measure twice cut once,” but he also helps us organize our team into groups that mix experienced and new members so that our knowledge is passed down to the next generation. Tom even creates opportunities for us after high school as well, starting a summer internship program at Cox and Company which invites only the most astute engineering minds, including some of our own teammates. Tom’s mentorship has inspired us to strive for the same qualities that he demonstrates every day.

Tom Ferguson has become one of the cornerstones of our team, and we owe him for far more than just the engineering expertise he brings to the team. An undyingly devoted mentor, it is really his dedication to our team that allows us to strive for goals that would have been just outside our reach. Team 694 values mentors who embody the FIRST values of dedication, knowledge, and leadership, and Tom has merited our nomination of him for the Woodie Flowers Award year after year. It is only our hope that Tom is awarded this distinction once again.