Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ty Tremblay: on a collision course with robotics engineering

As a freshman at Prospect Mountain High School in Alton, New Hampshire, Ty Tremblay says he had his heart set on becoming an executive chef in the restaurant business and was heading in the right direction ─ until he was knocked off course, literally, by FIRST.

Tremblay didn’t know what hit him when, on his way to catch the bus to his culinary classes one day, he passed the industrial arts classroom and collided with a rogue robot. Once “Big Bad Bob” was subdued and Tremblay was back on his feet, curiosity replaced surprise. After asking about the robot, the program, and FIRST, Tremblay was hooked. The following day, he joined FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 319, enrolled in the industrial arts program, and never thought twice about trading a spatula for a slide rule.

Tremblay sometimes muses that he could have taken several different paths to get to his destination that day. Why he chose the one that brought him past the industrial arts area, he’s not sure. But it was a path that eventually changed his life forever.

“Some say that choosing the right path in life takes careful deliberation and decision making. I used to be a firm believer in that school of thought. Then one day, it just hit me,” jokes Tremblay.

That was seven years ago, and today, Tremblay is pursuing a bachelor’s of science degree, as well as a master’s degree in robotics engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. A member of Team 319 during his high school years, Tremblay continues his involvement with FIRST today by mentoring Team 190 “Gompei and the H.E.R.D.,” a WPI-sponsored team made up of students from the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science, a junior/senior high school on campus.

Lessons learned on the chosen path

The college junior says there are plenty of lessons learned from his experiences with FIRST. “Teamwork is the key to any project’s success. If you don’t work as a team, you’ll never be able to build a robot in six weeks,” says Tremblay, who adds that learning how to work on a large team to solve a complex problem was one of the best lessons from his time spent with FIRST. And, doing it within the context of Gracious Professionalism™ was a bonus.

Another important “take away” from FIRST? A passion for science and technology. Tremblay says, “If you’re passionate about something, it never seems like work. During my four years as a team member of 319, I regularly put in 30 hours a week in addition to my school work, but I never grew tired of it. My involvement with FIRST has given me my passion; for the rest of my life, I’ll have fun mentoring FIRST teams and working on side projects. I can’t get enough of robotics.”

The soon-to-be engineer also maintains that if it wasn’t for FIRST, he would “never have found WPI.” During his freshman year, Tremblay mentored Team 190 and helped to design a sub-system of the team’s robot. Thanks to his efforts, the following year Tremblay was elected director of operations by the team, which meant he was in charge of organizing the design, construction, and completion of the team’s 2009 robot.

The Rogue Robot that led him to FIRST

What does the future hold for the man who once had dreams of becoming the next Emeril Lagasse? Tremblay says he plans to be involved with FIRST for the rest of his life.

“My experience with FIRST has given me a wealth of opportunities. I hope that I can help to do the same for other high school students,” says Tremblay, whose future plans include pursuing a doctorate in robotics engineering, after which he hopes to find a position working in the industry.

“Frankly, if ‘Big Bad Bob’ hadn’t hit me, I never would have joined FIRST. I never would have discovered WPI. And, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Tremblay.

Despite the initial collision course, it looks like there are no wrong turns on the road Tremblay has chosen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Delights of Dining Al Fresco

I just finished reading Mitch Ablom's article in PARADE magazine about dining outdoors. And I am howling. Or, rather, my husband and my 10-year-old are howling, because, Mitch sounds so much like me. Like Mitch, I, too, head outdoors to dine as soon as the icicles melt.

That’s when the search for places to eat al fresco begins, and becomes nothing short of an obsession. My family sighs in exasperation as I ponder where to have our spring/summer lunch, dinner, or breakfast. When at home, it's easy. The choice is either the patio or the porch. Short of a hail storm, we are eating at one or the other location. In fact, in my mind, it is a sacrilege to dine indoors after March 15. And, yes, like the Abloms, we have our fair share of pests: mosquitoes, flies, and the occasional bee. But, it does not deter us. Or, rather, me.

When we venture out to a restaurant, other obstacles come into play. Like the weather, which, again, rarely deters me, unless it’s pouring rain. My sister reminds me of the experience a few years back when I forced her to sit outside at a popular Newbury Street restaurant even though the thermometer plunged to a chilly 40 degrees. It was, after all, April 30 and officially spring.

For those who aren't as passionate as I am about dining in the elements, it's difficult to understand the appeal when the view is anything less than rolling hills or ocean waves. Most often the view or lack thereof doesn’t affect the experience for me. Although, sometimes even I have to admit when the vista is less than best dining outside can lose a bit of its cache. Especially when it consists of the side of a produce truck touting Vinne’s plumbing services or a flashing neon sign extolling the virtues of Dawn’s Donuts. Not to mention the unpleasant background noise of, say a 1970 Chevy whose muffler has seen better days, or the whoops and hollers of the local pre-teens as they rollerblade up and down the sidewalk in front of our table. Still, I tell my family, taking a deep breath that is mixed with car exhaust, it’s May and it’s warm out and there’s just something so special about eating outside.

Back on the home front, I have to agree with Mitch again. There isn’t a meal when we haven’t forgotten the napkins, or the forks, or the water, or the drinks. So after three or four trips to the kitchen, when my husband --- the designated runner --- finally sits down, my daughter and I are pretty much finished with our food.

Still, I persist in my quest for that perfect outdoor dining experience. I sometimes wonder if I have that light deficit disorder. Or, perhaps it has something to do with my childhood upbringing. I remember as a kid I spent every waking moment outside in the woods, in the trees, or in the sun, craving the air and brightness.

Whatever the reason, my need to eat outside is something I truly enjoy and look forward to as a rite of spring. Rest assured, with or without my family, I’ll be outside until the first snow. Or, at least until the leaves fall. I’m sure Mitch will be, too.