2015 Woodie Flowers Award Winner Puts Students FIRST
Mark Lawrence, Minnesota Regional Planning Committee Chairman and FIRST Robotics Competition Team Mentor, is the recipient of the 2015 Woodie Flowers Award, founded by Dr. William P. Murphy Jr. to recognize an outstanding engineer or teacher who best demonstrates teaching excellence in teaching science, math, and creative design.
In 2005, newly retired from his Regional Manager position at Cisco Systems, Lawrence (pictured, in green shirt) became a founding Mentor for FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1816 “The Green Machine” of Edina, Minnesota. Once involved, he continued to build upon that foundation in relentless pursuit of making the FIRST program available to every student in the state. In fact, today, Lawrence is the face of FIRST in Minnesota.
Lawrence is known for always putting the students first. He reads student emails before reading those of adult Mentors or Volunteers, tirelessly devotes his time to mentoring students, and has helped countless students — not only on Team 1816 — pursue their passions and plan their career paths. Without his mentorship, Lauren Lacy, a founding member of 1816, would not have pursued mechanical engineering at Purdue. Lacy is now an engineer at Procter & Gamble and an integral member of the Queen City Regional Planning Committee.
Being a lead Mentor on just one FIRST team wasn’t enough for Lawrence, and with a drive to ensure all students across the state have access to FIRST, he became the founding Chairman of the Minnesota Regional Planning Committee. Under his leadership and guidance, the FIRST Robotics Competition has grown exponentially in Minnesota, going from two active teams in 2005 to 192 teams in 2015, and from no competitions to four 60+ team Regional competitions. Over 56 percent of Minnesota high school students now have access to the program, and Minnesota has the most FIRST Robotics Competition teams per capita in the country.
Dramatic growth requires infrastructure, and Lawrence was instrumental in recruiting and maintaining key Volunteers and Sponsors for these events. He also encourages team Alumni to stay involved with FIRST. More than 20 Team 1816 Alums volunteer at FIRST events in other cities and, due to his mentorship, 14 Team 1816 graduates hold key Volunteer positions at Regionals.
Lawrence understands that for our culture to become one that values science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), FIRST programs must be recognized and given the same status as football and hockey. So he led the charge to make FIRST Robotics Competition a sanctioned varsity sport with its own Minnesota State Championship, the first of its kind in the world. He now works with other states, including Connecticut and Arizona, to follow suit.
In 2014, Lawrence received the Mayor of Edina’s Connecting with Kids Commendation for making a positive impact in the lives of Edina youth. He is not only a Mentor to Team 1816, but to the entire state. He pushes students and Mentors to achieve excellence and raises his expectations once they are met. One of his greatest joys is congratulating teams on their successes and accomplishments at events. According to his students, Lawrence “is our most fervent and enthusiastic cheerleader. We can’t wait to see where he takes us in the future.”