2007 Woodie Flowers Award Essay: Mr. Mauri Laitinen

It is not everyday that one encounters a special person, filled with dedication, generosity, and intelligence. This remarkable person is not only a great mentor, but is also a great role model for team members to depend on. Joining Team 115 at a time of need two years ago, he was unknown to practically all members as one boy had exclaimed, “Who’s that old guy?” Calm yet inspirational and innovative, Mr. Laitinen exemplifies the spirit of FIRST and gracious professionalism, and although he has little to say, every word is meaningful.

Mr. Laitinen spends time, money, and effort for the robotics team he loves. Even with a large family, he still manages to find time for robotics. His energy is not only directed toward the team during build, but also during pre-season training sessions. Prior to build, Mr. Laitinen eagerly taught rookies programming and also eagerly volunteered his house for a garage sale as well as other meetings. During build, Mr. Laitinen is indispensable and has great ideas he is bursting to share. Although Mr. Laitinen is always eager to give suggestions, he encourages students to think for themselves and never forces his ideas upon them.

Promptness is one distinct quality of Mr. Laitinen. He is always the first person to arrive and the last to leave. Whenever the team needs a part or a piece of equipment, Mr. Laitinen immediately dashes around town diligently searching until he can locate it, never letting the students down. Parts and equipment are bought on his credit, until the team has money to pay him back. Aside from engineering, Mr. Laitinen has taught the team important life skills, such as project management, in order to have a successful robot. One important phrase the students learned from Mr. Laitinen was that “Almost done is not done”, persuading everyone to finish the robot on time.

When the students are not at robotics, Mr. Laitinen still sits alone in the robotics room, diligently working on the computers until it is pitch dark outside. Even at times of frustration, Mr. Laitinen is never visibly angry. From time to time, he has interesting stories to share. When students do not have any means of getting home, Mr. Laitinen readily provides them with rides, even if it is out of his way. At dinnertime, Mr. Laitinen lets all the students consume food before taking any himself. At times when all the food had been devoured by all the starving teenagers, Mr. Laitinen has to later buy his own meal. Clearly, Mr. Laitinen always puts the students’ interests ahead of his own, even canceling a family trip to Tahoe just for the team.

Mr. Laitinen’s advice extends beyond the boundaries of robotics. Eager to spread the joys of engineering, Mr. Laitinen is anxious to aid other FIRST teams. During competitions, he attempts to aid other teams, such as times when teams needed spare parts or advice. Also, Mr. Laitinen encourages students to help in Western Region Robotics Forum (WRRF), to mentor other teams nearby, or to invite other teams to practice for competition.

Mr. Laitinen is always patient, knowledgeable, and trustworthy. He shows up not for recognition, but for the benevolence in his heart. His presence not only gives members a sense of security but also the magical feeling of robotics. He will always be here for the students. Students will always look up to Mr. Laitinen for he is here to solve problems and to help them succeed in whatever we choose to do. He will always be in each and every student’s heart and mind as an inspiration.