Perhaps one of the greatest STEM leaders, Albert Einstein, once said, “it is the supreme
art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Professor Gail Drake is the epitome of this, guiding her students through more than robots.
When Drake stepped into FIRST 14 years ago, she had 32 students with her. She left
corporate life to share her knowledge and creativity with every student that she would reach. Since 2004, Drake has inspired over 1500 students through FIRST, but this number doesn’t include those that come into her classroom and see FRC robots on pedestals and hear her brag about the knowledge gained from FIRST. For Drake, encouraging students to become leaders comes naturally. At meetings she shows a list of tasks and gives students tools for success. These tools allow students to rise as leaders with no predefined notions. Everyone in her eyes was born with greatness no matter the form it comes.
The team believes that Drake was placed on earth to spread enthusiasm for STEM. True to her words is the best way to describe her; she genuinely is creating a better future. Implementing and writing coursework for cyber, robotics, and sustainability is one way she furthers STEM. Professor Drake advocates for FIRST with Congressmen Wolf, Warner, Kaine, Brown, and Leahy. Her dedication to her students does not go unrecognized, being awarded the Lifetime Heroine Award for Women in Technology, AFA #1 VA STEM teacher, teacher of the year at BHS, and Professor of the year at NVCC. Her enthusiasm is immeasurable because that is her natural state. As for Drake’s knowledge, she has 2 Master’s degrees and working on a 3rd in Cyber. These degrees are not for her, but her students.
As the Head Coach of 1885, ILITE Robotics, Drake strives to enable her students to be
the best; she pushes us to limits that we didn’t know existed. Before every team meeting we sit down and talk. Talk about robots, outreach, current events, anything to stimulate our minds; sharing ideas alongside her. We are communicating, learning that this is a virtue to hold as an adult. Drake treats us as professionals while guiding us through those stressful 45 days. Teaching us to calm down and ask questions when we don’t understand. No ILITE member is static because everyone is encouraged to try all aspects until they find a niche. The environment of ILITE is supportive and creative due to her. She is the driving force of this successful team. Drake is an IT teacher, a Professor, a college student, a robotics and cyber head coach, and mother to 3. We have no idea how she did it, but over the past 14 years she created an environment that breeds STEM leaders. The evidence is in our alumni who work at Google, Microsoft, FIRST, and more. There is no other person who fits the criteria of this award better than Drake, she is the most honorable and courageous woman. A role model for everyone. Einstein may not have known Drake, but boy did he direct that quote at her.