Alan Bronec lauded for dedication to the Missoula Robotics Team

By: Nathan Bronec
20 June 2017

In May, CTA principal and electrical engineer (and, incidentally, my dad) Alan Bronec received an award from Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) for being an Outstanding Mentor to Missoula Robotics Team 3216 over the last eight years. Alan’s involvement with the team began my first year of high school when a teacher approached me about joining a newly-founded FIRST robotics team. I went home that night and told him about it, then asked if he would like to be a mentor. Given his profession, Alan seemed like a natural mentor on the electrical side. However, during that first meeting, his attention quickly diverted to helping students trying to build different mechanisms for the robot.

From that moment forward, Alan’s cemented his role as the team’s head fabrication mentor. Every season, I have witnessed him helping students develop cardboard prototypes — sometimes they’re just napkin sketches — into final robots in just under six weeks. When I asked Alan how he is able to help the students build such elaborate mechanisms, he attributed it to his experience of growing up on a farm and fixing broken equipment.

In his role as mentor, Alan has pushed to keep Missoula’s robotics program flourishing. After the first two years, Alan and the other mentors got together with the superintendent of MCPS to expand the program and incorporate students from all the local high schools. Alan’s advocacy has also increased support in the local community — which led to fellow CTA employees Michael Kaufman and me becoming mentors for the team in the years since. Similar to what was introduced in Washington state a few years ago, Alan has made it a long-term goal to get the Montana legislature to allocate funding to help start robotics programs throughout the state. As of now, I only know of two FRC teams in Montana, located in Missoula and Manhattan.

Alan’s hard work in and out of the shop gained the attention of not only the school board but also of the students. This year, the club approached the other mentors, informing them of their decision to nominate Alan for the Woodie Flowers Award, the highest accolade FIRST program mentors can receive. In order to do this, students write a letter about Alan as a mentor; this, in part, is what they said in theirs:

Early in 2010, the recently-established Missoula Robotics Team began work competing in their first FRC competition. Yearning for success, the team knew that even the best robots are not built without guidance and help. In search of leadership, Missoula Robotics stumbled upon a gentle giant. From the very beginning, Alan Bronec became the backbone of Missoula Robotics. Since its inception in 2010, the Missoula Robotics team has gone through many changes, with one of the only main constants being Alan’s dedication to helping the student members of the team succeed in their endeavors.

Alan begins each build season by making pancakes and bacon in a CTA conference room while team members watch the unveiling of that year’s challenge. Accompanying the smell of his cooking, there is an obvious excitement for the upcoming build season in the air on this morning. Each day, he comes to practice with a smile on his face that sets the tone for a fun day of work. In addition to a positive attitude that can brighten the mood of any grumpy teenager, Alan strives to bring the very best out of each student he mentors. Throughout the build season, Alan allows the students to let their imaginations guide the process. He truly sees the value of independent study and the role making mistakes plays in learning about engineering.

In FRC spirit, team 3216 Missoula Robotics graciously nominates our mentor Alan Bronec for the Woodie Flowers Award. Alan’s character embodies all of the FIRST mission statement in which he exhibits every day at robotics. Alan constantly demonstrates the meaning of being a gracious professional by showing how to work with integrity and sensitivity. However, meetings are not the only place Alan inspires the team; at competition, Alan encourages cooperation and gracious professionalism by helping other teams when in need. All things considered, Missoula Robotics would not be a team without the inspiration we have from our mentor, Alan. I hope we have inspired you just like Alan has inspired us daily.

Unfortunately, the award committee did not select Alan as a finalist for the Woodie Flowers Award. However, I find the above letter speaks volumes for the FRC Program and the quality of mentors that are working with the next generation that will likely one day be immersed in the STEM field, as have a large majority of past students from this team. I know Alan and other mentors like him are a reason I pursued and finished my engineering degree this year. I can’t wait to see what becomes of the team in the years to come as the younger generation that has been a part of robotics since elementary school joins the high school team. It’s nice to know that, through everything, Alan will always be there to not only help the students — and also my fellow mentors — become better at what they do.

I strongly encourage others to look at the FIRST website and discover what volunteer opportunities are available in your local community. I know that teams are always looking for mentors, and they can put to great use the expertise of engineers, graphic designers, business-minded individuals, and project managers, among many other disciplines — and all across the country.

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    • Puru Shah 4 weeks ago

      Congrats Alan. Keep inspiring the students.