Woodie Flowers submission 2020

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

Wendy Bretton first joined Triple Helix four years ago as a software mentor, but her impact on the team has been much larger than that. As a professional software engineer for over 20 years, Mrs. Bretton has an incredible amount of knowledge that she is willing to share with both students and mentors alike. She has created an atmosphere on the software subteam where everyone’s input is valuable. Because of this, it is rare to see Mrs. Bretton without at least one or two students by her side. She is constantly encouraging members to take on different tasks and learn more.

Mrs. Bretton has always been devoted to promoting STEM, even long before she joined Triple Helix. As a mother of two, when her kids were in elementary school she heard about FLL, and after finding out that no one at their school wanted to start a team, she started one herself. This FLL team has been to state championships countless times and is still going strong. Mrs. Bretton even has her own website that shares a variety of STEM topics, activities, and ideas. She is often contacted by new parents asking how to get their children involved in STEM. Her devotion and dedication to promoting STEM has had a tremendous effect on those around her.

Interestingly enough, when Mrs. Bretton first joined Triple Helix, she was not expecting to become the software lead, however, she quickly became an asset to the team by taking over the lead position when the previous software mentor left. Not only did she keep the software subteam afloat, but she implemented a structured, well-documented framework that allows students to begin contributing from day one by following procedures shared in Google Keep notes. Mrs. Bretton focuses on ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to participate. Carson, one of the youngest members on the team says, “Mrs. Bretton makes sure everyone has a task regardless of their experience level.”

Mrs. Bretton strives to ensure that all students are able to express their creativity. She encourages teamwork throughout the subteam, and because of this, students are often found working together on the code. Long after a meeting ends, Mrs. Bretton will be looking over all of the altered code and integrating it into a stable baseline so that testing can start at the next meeting. This system guarantees that all the students can actively participate in writing the code. She even managed to implement this practice with last year’s robot – the most complicated robot the team has made.

In conclusion, Mrs. Bretton is more than just the team’s software mentor. She not only works alongside the students, but also provides life advice, support, and even rides to meetings. Liz, one of the team’s alumni, states, “Her positive energy truly bleeds out into everything that she does.” To sum it up, Mrs. Bretton’s passion for promoting STEM has created many lifelong learners, gracious professionals, and thoughtful citizens who continue to be active in the STEM community.

Chairman’s Award submission 2019

Triple Helix is proud to publish this essay as part of our submission for the 2019 FIRST Robotics Competition Chairman’s Award.

Triple Helix has been a leader of the Hampton Roads (HR) community since 2008. Since then we’ve worked tirelessly to spread the values of FIRST and to increase interest in STEM in our region. During the past five years, we’ve forged new connections between our FIRST team and the VA Peninsula at over 90 community and sponsor-hosted events, encouraging others to join the FIRST community.

Rumble in the Roads, the annual off-season competition we operate with partner teams 5957 and 1610, is our largest STEM outreach event. Since 2014, we’ve attracted an average of 30 teams from VA, NC, and MD and 300 visitors, including students, parents, mentors, and government figures such as the school’s superintendent and the Vice Mayor of Newport News. This event is an opportunity for teams to practice and train new students before the start of the next build season. In 2018 we supported rookie teams 7429, 7675, and 7715, helping them prepare for the following FRC season by waiving their Rumble competition fees and partnering them with veterans who shared their experience and resources like their drive teams, pit crews, and drivetrains.

In 2018, Triple Helix established the Peninsula STEM Gym, which is a shared space that provides a plethora of options for local FIRST teams to explore. Attached to a community woodworking makerspace, the STEM Gym serves as a workshop, practice field, and collaboration space for all levels of FIRST teams. We have a full-size FRC and FTC playing field available for teams to effectively prepare for competitions. Plans are evolving to further expand the use of the space for local FIRST teams.

Our team has maintained a YouTube channel since 2013, where we post tutorials, build season logs, and videos of matches from competitions we attend. These videos are used by FRC teams for drive team development. This past year the team has taken on the task of building an archive of mechanical video tutorials, such as how to build bumpers or a drivetrain, as a way to assist young teams and curious minds alike. We post videos of tested engineering and team practices for the FRC community and provide a long-term visual history of our team. For example, our 2018 Gripper Prototype video gained over 47,000 views and influenced a number of teams’ intakes, such as team 5472, who thanked us for posting it as well as our “contributions to the FIRST community.”

Our sponsors are a part of our identity, and they have a huge impact on how we perform at competitions and in the community. For example, we interacted with over 1,200 visitors when we displayed our robot alongside sponsors DoD STEM and SPAWAR at the 2016 Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show in VA Beach. At NASA Langley’s invitation, we demonstrated our robot at their Exploration Days event at Busch Gardens Williamsburg for over 20,000 park visitors from around the world during each day of the event. We’ve exhibited at NASA’s Youth Day where we were a key part of the experience for NASA employees and their children. In 2016, we partnered with sponsor Jefferson Lab to host the HR FRC Kickoff; they later commissioned our team to 3D print parts for the GlueX Experiment. In 2017, manufacturing firm Continental Corp. invited us to tour their facilities and show our robot to their staff. We show our gratitude for our local sponsor, the Junior Woman’s Club of Hilton Village, by annually supporting their dinner theater event as wait staff. Club members stated “Your students did a wonderful job waiting tables for us at Dinner Theatre!” In July of 2017, NASA and Boeing invited us to the NASA Langley Centennial Gala; student leaders mingled with industry officials, made professional connections, and participated in a milestone event. Later that summer, we gave a presentation about our team’s strategies and structure to AFCEA’s HR chapter at Langley AFB.

Our team regularly works with organizations, businesses, and schools to incorporate FIRST into our region. We annually participate at the CNU Community STEM Day where we demonstrate robot capabilities to 4,500 visitors. Our team has previously run the FRC Summit at CNU, where regional teams share knowledge on topics such as scouting, build season strategies, and off-season projects. We participated in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 YMCA STEM Fairs at the VA Air and Space Center, showing our robot to over 1,600 students, local dignitaries, and business leaders.

We sponsor and support several local FIRST teams. During the 2016 and 2017 seasons, we provided mentor help and technical resources to FRC team 5957. We donated critical equipment to Warwick River Christian School’s FLL team 24104 when they formed in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, we provided mentor support to FLL team 2581. We continue to sponsor Hines Middle School FTC team by funding their registration and competition fees. In 2017, we loaned climbing ropes, mentor support, and mechanical resources to teams that needed them at competitions. Regarding our past support, FRC team 5546’s head mentor has stated that

“Triple Helix has had a tremendous impact on our rookie year. In the offseason leading up to 2015 they sponsored us for a free trip to Rumble in the Roads, and let us use one of their practice robots to compete with. This really helped us see FIRST-hand what to expect in the upcoming FRC year. Earlier in the school year, they donated one of their previous robots to help us practice and learn how FRC bots operate. Because of this donation, we were able to jump right into our build season, and had our own working drivetrain quickly. On top of all that, they have been very open and generous with information, working with us during a brainstorming session at Franklin, and offering to help us troubleshoot our RoboRio. We owe much of our already successful build season to Team 2363.”

During the 2017 season, our team provided a home to FRC team 122’s students and mentors during an inactive year. Following this experience, one of team 122’s students stated that

“Being on the Triple Helix team helped me grow and experience STEM and leadership from a completely different perspective. It was refreshing to see how such an organized and structured team functioned. For instance, Team 122 never held official ‘reflecting’ sessions that compared previously set goals to what was accomplished at the competitions. However, after being on Triple Helix, I realized just how important that step is to improving as a team. Additionally, communicating through Slack was something that was new to me, but a great method of communication that I learned thanks to Triple Helix. I plan on bringing all these great things I learned from this team to Team 122.”

We’re devoted to making a positive impact on our community through FIRST. A favorite outreach opportunity is with a chapter of Cooperating Hampton Roads Organizations for Minorities in Engineering (CHROME) at a local church; after meeting 20 curious CHROME Club elementary school students in 2015, the students asked for us to return for more robot-related antics, which we have successfully done in 2016 and 2017. We introduced our robot to the 2016 STEM for Girls summer camp hosted by the Peninsula Jaycees and to the visitors at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Nature Connects: Art with LEGO event.

We’re dedicated to spreading awareness of FIRST within our school system. While managing different aspects of the 2016 VA Odyssey of the Mind State Finals Tournament, we were able to advertise our team and answer questions about FIRST. At the end of this event, former MHS Activities Director Pete Mercier stated

“Triple Helix not only dominates the world of robotics, but they are absolutely committed to community service! Even as they are planning for HUGE competitions of their own, they helped all day on Saturday, running events, helping guests, and assisting our cafeteria staff with the serving of food and disposal of trash! They were eager and helpful and we thank [their mentors] for not just helping to get these great kids involved, but for inspiring the spirit of service in these tech-savvy students!”

In 2017, we exhibited at the State of the City Luncheon to local dignitaries and potential sponsors to exemplify advanced STEM programs in our school system; we were able to meet many school board members who were previously unaware of our team. We’ve made a strong connection with our student body through our participation in activity fairs and open houses where we’ve displayed our robot’s capabilities and team’s aesthetic. Through demonstrations at local elementary and middle schools, we ensure that there will be students joining our team in the future.

We’re very proud of our lasting impact on students. We’ve been recognized for our role in encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers by increasing the participation of female students on our team, encouraging their role in leadership positions, and providing opportunities for them to become engaged in the engineering process. Of alumni who graduated in the last 5 years, 97% of our students pursue college educations, with 83% pursuing STEM careers. In our senior exit interviews, graduating seniors report that their Triple Helix experiences award them “a glimpse into the type of job I want to have professionally, a more complete understanding of project management, friendships that I will never forget, and leadership skills to take into college and the workplace.” Students leave with “valuable relationships with mentors who work in industry” and “the confidence to pursue an engineering degree!” Perhaps most succinctly put, however, came from one alumni who said, “I learned what I wanted to do in life.”

Our team regularly quotes the phrase, “it’s not just about the robots.” This has truly been expressed in our constant zeal for spreading the values of FIRST throughout our region, in our ongoing mission to inspire others to pursue technological fields and participate in the worldwide FIRST community.

Woodie Flowers submission 2019

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

Nate Laverdure joined Triple Helix six years ago and took on the role of head coach the following year. As a cryogenics mechanical engineer at Jefferson Labs, he is extremely valuable to the team as a whole, serving as the primary coordinator of Triple Helix activities in the community. As head coach, Nate has transformed the team’s structure to put students in leadership positions and has moulded the atmosphere into an incredibly friendly and inclusive environment. The relationship he has with students is respectful and comfortable, so much so that students refer to him by his first name. The amount of time and work he has dedicated to Triple Helix is inspiring to mentors and students alike.

Nate emphasizes the mentality of continuous improvement by organizing team meetings before and after competitions in which we reflect on the positives and negatives of our team’s performance at events. He also introduced System Integration Meetings, in which students from different subteams communicate their progress on team projects during the build season. These meetings maximize communication across the team and encourage students to communicate consistently in work environments. “Nate keeps everyone on the same page with emails and on slack, he leads the team in meeting about competition and makes sure everyone understands what’s going on,” says Sigrid.

Nate encourages learning by asking students to brainstorm how they would solve a problem rather than giving an outright answer. He motivates students through guided problem solving and ensures that students take on most of the projects and are recognized for doing so. “Nate makes the whole challenge and competitions less stressful by focusing on solving current problems instead of just winning,” said Eric. He also prioritizes assisting other teams in and out of competitions, sending pit crew members to other teams in need of a helping hand as well as collaborating with local teams in the off-season. To address the lack of practice space, Nate founded the Peninsula STEM Gym as a place where local teams can practice and collaborate.

At the start of each season, Nate presents the team with a list of priorities that need to be respected, including self, homework, and robotics. The purpose of this exercise is to establish a team mentality of balancing personal health and extracurricular activities. By impressing upon the students the importance of a balanced life, Nate encourages us to refrain from physical and mental overexertion, in the shop or at home. Nate serves as a model for students to emulate, as well as a resource, often teaching students physics and helping with other homework.

He’s influenced the team culture in a truly unforgettable and incredible way, provided a safe space for students to be completely expressive, and helped the team culture grow from that of a workplace into a family. Nate is not only our mentor, he is our friend.

Chairman’s Award video 2018

This video was provided to judges as part of our submission for the 2018 Chairman’s Award.  Triple Helix received the Chairman’s Award at the FIRST Chesapeake District – Hampton Roads event at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.  Here’s what the judges had to say about our team:

The Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award in FIRST. It honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST. The Chairman’s Award is presented to the team judged to have the most significant, measurable impact on its partnership among its participants and community over a sustained period, not just a single build season. The winners will demonstrate progress towards FIRST’s mission of transforming our culture. The recipient team will be invited to the District Championship where it will compete for the Chairman’s Award against other winners from other qualifying events and compete with their robot.

This team’s effort to spread the word about FIRST and STEM stretched from Richmond to Virginia Beach and dozens of locations in between. They have held events at local universities, a military base, other federal facilities, a tourist attraction, a professional association, museums, and even a public garden. This team helped stand up new FRC teams, supported rookie teams, helped revitalize an existing team, mentored additional teams, and held a popular off-season event. They also support an FTC team, and mentor and support four FLL teams, pulling triple duty for their work with FIRST. Hosting a round-table and summer camp, participating in a variety of STEM events, giving presentations to STEM-related organizations, and leveraging social media to reach a broader audience, clearly inspiring today’s youth to embrace science, technology, engineering, and math is embedded deep within this team’s DNA.


Woodie Flowers submission 2018

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

Todd Ferrante has been a dedicated mentor to our team since 2011. As a systems integration engineer at NASA Langley, he is beyond well-equipped to teach and inspire a love of engineering in students. Through his abilities to motivate, communicate, and problem solve, his patience with students and mentors, and his willingness to lead, he has developed our team culture into one of universal respect, professionalism, and unending support.

Mr. Ferrante is a master of motivation. “He encourages everyone to give their own ideas and opinions. If you ask him how something will be done, instead of telling you, he asks you how you think it should be done,” says Justin. “He always makes sure we know what we’re doing. At competitions, he calmly talks to us about what he thinks may be wrong. If someone messes up, he will help them find a solution calmly. He never blames anyone for anything,” says Aaron. Any question asked is answered to the best of his ability and given his full attention. “He values the opinions of everyone and never dismisses any idea or question,” says Adam.

Mr. Ferrante’s ability to communicate has led him to become the drive team coach, in addition to his role as a mechanical subteam mentor. “He’s always super proud of every match, even if we perform poorly. He’s very nice about correcting our mistakes, and when we all get really tired he keeps us focused,” says Rachel. “ Even if we lose a match, he’s always at the sidelines, cheering us on, and is happy at what we accomplished,” says Gabe.

Mr. Ferrante is dedicated to creating an encouraging and healthy team environment. “He can correct you with a kind word, and encourage you to do better, even when you are giving it your all. Mr. Ferrante has, in all probability, corrected me hundreds of times. But I always welcomed it, and needed it, because he showed me how to be better through positive reinforcement. He was the perfect leader for a drive team, because he could keep a level head to give us coherent feedback, and also figured out how to convey that feedback in a positive way,” says alumnus Aaron. “He’s always very happy when he’s at meetings. He consistently does his best to create a positive environment for all of the students and welcomes everyone with open arms. He pushes us to do everything we can and make the most out of every situation. He never backs down from a challenge and brings his A-Game to any situation he’s thrown into,” says Adam.

One essay will never be enough room for us to express our gratitude for all of the heart and soul Mr. Ferrante has poured into our team. His constant dedication and enthusiasm for Triple Helix and FIRST have gone beyond the scope of mentorship. He’s become a role model and inspiration to everyone he’s worked with, and has changed our team from a group of nerds to a family. As each year produces more graduates, our family grows, and with it our awareness of how lucky we are to work with such an exceptional mentor as Todd Ferrante.

Chairman’s Award video 2017

This video was provided to judges as part of our submission for the 2017 Chairman’s Award.  Triple Helix received the Chairman’s Award at the FIRST Chesapeake District – Hampton Roads event at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.  Here’s what the judges had to say about our team:

The 2017 FIRST Chesapeake District Hampton Roads Qualifiers Chairman’s Award is the most prestigious award in FIRST. It honors the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST.  The Chairman’s Award is presented to the team judged to have the most significant measurable impact on its partnerships among participants and community over a sustained period, not just a single build season.  The winner is able to demonstrate progress towards FIRST’s mission of transforming our culture. The recipient team will be invited to the District Championship where it will compete for the Chairman’s Award against winners from other qualifying events and compete with their robot.

This team’s success is defined by four powerful characteristics: growth, development, replication, and functioning.

First, the team exhibits exceptional growth. Not just the number of members involved, but also in its influence on individual team members and its community. An internal peer mentoring program helps members develop their leadership, communication, and innovative skills. The team growth in advocacy is seen in its lobbying to gain stipends for public school teachers that mentor robotics teams, and its profile in social media and other digital platforms.

Second, the team is an example of what development is all about. Their program is involved by incorporating explicit focus on the arts and business. Student groups use graphic design, public speaking, and grantmanship as they sustain and strengthen partnership with mentors and sponsors. And in public, they have presentations that promote STEM and FIRST.

Third, the team is worthy of replication. This team models replication in helping to create FRC, FTC, and FLL teams, contributing time, expertise, equipment, and registration fees. They also are a lead collaborator for an offseason FRC event and a Chesapeake regional FRC kickoff.

Finally, this team is multi-functional. The team functions as an ambassador for FIRST, hosting robot demonstrations at large events such as air shows, science exposition days, and STEM fairs. This team functions as a catalyst to impact students by presenting summer STEM camps that simulate an FLL build season, and they conduct demonstrations for elementary school clubs that target girls and minorities.

Now, according to Webster’s, DNA may be defined as a molecule carrying genetic instructions for the growth, development, replication, and functioning of a living organism. That’s why our judges believe this team’s success is truly by design.  Team 2363!


Woodie Flowers submission 2017

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

William Bretton has been the electrical mentor on FRC Team 2363, Triple Helix, for the past three years, and during this time he has affected the team in a significant and wonderful way. He has been an inspiration to his students by teaching them the fundamentals of engineering and design. He has also implemented many electrical and team systems that have saved time and provided greater efficiency. Not only is he a great asset and well-loved mentor of our team, but he is also highly respected on other teams, due to his unwavering support given to teams in need.

Mr. Bretton is very proficient at the electrical and programming systems that he works with, and is able to explain unfamiliar concepts to students with ease. He teaches his students the critical thinking skills and creative processes of engineering, and is always willing to correct students with a kind word. In addition to teaching students, he also has put into practice the use of a living document on Google Keep, which not only tracks robot development, but also enables greater connectivity between subteams and better team communication overall. He has also helped the student leadership create end-of-meeting checklists that allow for quicker a clean-up time, which expands the amount of time spent working on the robot. Additionally, he took the initiative to create modular electrical systems that can be plugged into separate prototypes, which allows the mechanical subteam more freedom to test prototypes without a complete robot. This system has saved a significant amount of time spent during build season, and highlights one of the many ways in which he has impacted the team due to his creativity of engineering design and concepts.

As well as being a spectacular mentor to the team, Mr. Bretton has also shown true leadership at competitions. Oftentimes, younger teams will struggle with building a functional drivetrain. During the 2016 season, Mr. Bretton saw one such team and didn’t hesitate to ask if he could help. The team was soon able to cross most of the defenses, and Mr. Bretton was thrilled to see their progress throughout the remainder of the competition. This unfaltering support of other teams, regardless of who they were, set an excellent example of gracious professionalism to the students on our team.

When Mr. Bretton joined the team, he was eager to learn how the team worked and what he could to to help it work better. His dedication to teaching students, his initiative towards improving the team, and his knowledge of electrical and programming systems has made him an integral member of the team. He has become a true role model who inspires students and mentors alike, and his expertise and experiences have provided for greater success for both the team competitively and for students academically. He is a friend and an inspiration to all, and we are incredibly grateful to have a mentor as influential and inspiring to work with as Mr. Bretton.

Chairman’s Award video 2016

This video was provided to judges as part of our submission for the 2016 Chairman’s Award.  Triple Helix received the Chairman’s Award at the FIRST Chesapeake District – Hampton Roads event at Churchland High School in Portsmouth.  Here’s what the judges had to say about our team:

The Chairman’s Award for our event is the most prestigious award in FIRST. You notice I’m talking about it after the folks who won the event, after all sorts of other awards we just talked about.

It honors a team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and our goals here at FIRST. The Chairman’s Award is presented to the team judged to have the most significant measurable impact on its partnerships among its participants and its community over a sustained period, not just a single build season.

The winner is able to demonstrate progress towards FIRST’s mission of transforming our culture. The recipient team will be invited to the District Championship where it’s going to compete for the Chairman’s Award against the winners of all the other district qualifying events.

This year’s Chairman’s Award winner embodies the definition of an influencer. They’re a powerful and compelling force that impacts mentors, corporations, local governments, and school boards who are now embracing the values of FIRST and STEM in their communities. It’s clear that they’re living their own words of inspiring young minds of the world to work for their passion by hosting more than 40 demonstrations and partnering with schools, universities, and their sponsoring organizations.

From raising funds by waiting on tables, to organizing and sponsoring a huge offseason FRC event, this team’s DNA has a clear and lasting distinguishment. The next time you’re in Hampton Roads and hear a distinctive Rumble, make no mistake– it’s the positive impact of Team 2363, Triple Helix.


Woodie Flowers submission 2016

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

Nate Laverdure has been involved in FIRST for as long as he can remember. He grew up in southern New Hampshire, less than 20 minutes away from FIRST headquarters in Manchester. In the summer of 1996 between 2nd and 3rd grade he signed up for a summer camp at FIRST headquarters where, over the course of a couple weeks, he and a couple of other students helped beta test the first LEGO Mindstorms system for a new FIRST program in development. Later, in 1998, FIRST piloted the FLL program using lessons they had learned during that beta test.

Now, Nate is acting as head coach for FRC team 2363, Triple Helix, after being appointed at the end of the 2015 season by the previous head coach and Virginia regional Woodie Flowers winner Matt Wilbur. Nate’s passion is one of his strongest qualities that qualify him for this prestigious award. While there are mentors who have worked with teams for much longer, Nate’s drive to see those around him succeed in what they love really leads to his success as a head coach and a mentor that all the students adore. If a student needs help Nate will sit with them advising them until they get it right. He takes his position as leader of 2363 very seriously and works with the student leadership to make sure everything on the team is running smoothly.

As a cryogenics mechanical engineer at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, we were curious as to how Nate got to where he is and his response did not disappoint us. “For almost my entire life I’ve wanted to become a mechanical engineer. (I’ve only had 3 answers to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”… first it was Greyhound bus driver, then great white shark, then engineer.) Participating in FIRST helped get me to where I am now primarily because it allowed me to develop real working relationships with professional adult mentors. This had a huge impact on my life… Having the opportunity to learn from those mentors in high school shaped my entire approach to learning throughout college and into my career as a mechanical engineer.” The impact that Nate’s high school mentors had on his future also led to Nate’s own teaching and mentoring method. He is a mentor young enough for the students to relate to, yet mature enough to guide us as we prepare to take the next big steps in our lives.

Nate is a mentor who understands his students and uses his own experiences and understanding to mentor us, rather than simply telling us how to work and live. He has worked with FIRST as a student, tournament director, advisor, mentor, and head coach. His passion and strive for success inspire everyone who meets him, whether they are student, mentor, parent, or co-worker. The respect he earns from those around him are always returned tenfold and the impact FIRST has had on Nate is evident in everything he does.