Engineering Faculty from RIT Named FIRST Robotics Volunteer of the Year

Winner began with FIRST Robotics as a team member and later as a mentor

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Ken Huth

Kate Leipold shares a laugh on the field with several of the volunteers that she works with at the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics Competition, held March 5 and 6 at RIT. She was named Outstanding Volunteer for the Finger Lakes Region.

Juggling 40 robots, nearly 1,000 students, mentors and volunteers plus coordinating two days worth of team matches takes precision, patience and humor. Kate Leipold made it look easy. For her efforts, the engineering instructor from Rochester Institute of Technology was named 2010 FIRST Robotics Outstanding Volunteer for the Finger Lakes Region.

“I’m very proud to be awarded the outstanding volunteer award,” says Leipold, an instructor in the mechanical engineering department in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering.

It takes approximately 100 volunteers a day, Wednesday through Saturday, to pull the competition together. “I’ve been lucky to have really great volunteers that come back year after year and work tirelessly to make the Finger Lakes Regional well respected as one of the smoothest run regional events around,” Leipold explains about the team that includes college students, retired business and engineering professionals, team mentors and individuals she describes as “friends of FIRST.”

“Kate has been a tremendous help organizing the dozens of volunteers necessary to make the Finger Lakes event run smoothly,” says Richard Bryant, Finger Lakes Regional Planning Committee chairperson. “It takes dedicated volunteers like Kate to make the Finger Lakes Regional at RIT the fun and exciting competition that we have come to expect.”

Leipold, a resident of Irondequoit, N. Y., received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from RIT. She also has a long history with FIRST Robotics. She is faculty adviser to the FIRST robotics club at RIT and has been a mentor to several local high school teams.

“When I started in 1997, there were three Rochester teams, sponsored by Xerox, Kodak and Harris RF. We traveled to New Jersey, New York City and Cleveland for regional competitions,” she says. “Gradually, several more teams joined in, and we were still travelling for competitions.

“In 2003 there were six local teams. Shortly after that it was announced that Rochester would host a regional competition,” she explains. “At this year’s competition, more than 20 high schools from the local area had teams competing. The kids are still incredibly enthusiastic, the mentors are still dedicated, and the sponsors are even more generous.”

This is the second award Leipold has won for service to FIRST. In 2008 she received the Woodie Flowers Award, another of the prestigious awards given to mentors who lead, inspire and empower teams and demonstrate excellence in teaching science, mathematics and creative design. She was nominated by the team she mentored at Churchville Chili High School.