Woodie Flowers submission 2023

Triple Helix students are proud to publish this Woodie Flowers Award nominating essay for our mentor Bill Bretton.

Bill Bretton, a Triple Helix mentor and parent since 2014, is a true inspiration to students who are interested in STEM. Armed with his technical skills and magnetic personality, he has inspired our entire team and sparked a passion for science and technology in countless students.

Bill ingrains a valuable sense of confidence in students that has helped propel many into careers in STEM. From the moment a new member walks in the door, Bill puts them to work on a project learning new skills. The tasks may be as simple as ferrule crimping, but these small efforts make every new student want to come back to the next meeting. He breaks down complex problems into simple language, so students always come away having learned something new and ready to solve new problems.

As the electrical subteam mentor, Bill helps our student team revolutionize our approach to electronics. When we identified a critical problem of batteries failing during matches, Bill taught students electrical engineering to develop an innovative battery logging system which could identify bad units before competitions even happened. In 2019, Bill spent the fall teaching the electrical subteam data analytics, which we used to develop a system for tracking what machining tools all team members were trained on.

As the leader of our pit crew, Bill helps students diagnose and repair mechanical and electrical failures quickly. At every competition, Bill writes key match and inspection information on our whiteboard, ensuring everyone in the pit is on the same page. Encouraging students to take time to assess the situation first and work around other issues students are fixing, he teaches teamwork and problem solving skills even in the heat of the moment.

Bill taught students how to give back to the community using their technical skills. In 2019 and 2020, Triple Helix took on the ambitious challenge of developing low-cost assistive technology for disabled children who were economically disadvantaged. Bill taught students how to rewire children’s ride-on cars, motorized toys, and buttons to produce assistive mobility and educational devices for kids in our local community.

When Bill’s own kids were in middle school he started an FLL team at a local middle school. This inspired many students to later join FTC and FRC teams and even pursue STEM in college. Bill has inspired us to be leaders, as said by our team captain: “I went from knowing little about electronics and programming to leading innovative projects in the FIRST community because Mr. Bretton has supported me from day one.”

If Triple Helix were a circuit, Bill Bretton would be the battery, providing the energy to power up his students and the spark to light up their futures in STEM. Bill’s memorable personality, charisma, empathy, and humorous approach to mentoring have changed all of our lives for the better. Our experiences with him will stay with us long after our journey as FRC students comes to an end.