Kate Leipold named FIRST Robotics Volunteer of the Year

Mechanical engineering grad began as a team member

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Ken Huth

Kate Leipold ’01, ’07 was named Outstanding Volunteer at the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics competition.

Juggling 40 robots, nearly 1,000 students, and dozens of mentors and volunteers while coordinating two days’ worth of team competition is a monumental achievement.

Kate Leipold ’01, ’07 (mechanical engineering) made it look easy. For her efforts, the RIT engineering instructor 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.

The 2010 Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotics competition, which took place March 3-6 at RIT, involves approximately 100 volunteers a day. “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 says. The volunteers include 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., 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.