Teens and technology are Bill Neidlinger’s specialty

In an effort to consume a big slice of humble pie, I am reprinting the column I wrote for today’s US&J about a fascinating local man and his techno-wizard students. In the queen of all blunders, I wrote his name as Bob (that’s his father and son) instead of Bill! Bill saw the humor in it but I am posting it here in its corrected version. Thank you Lord, for keeping me humble.

            For some people, the best investment in the future is time and talent spent on our youth. Today’s Spotlight shines on Bill Neidlinger of Burt.

            Neidlinger started his career as a teacher of technology about 34 years ago in Maryland. Following his start there he taught for 20 years in the Lewiston-Porter District and then on to BOCES, working with students in Newfane and Niagara Wheatfield. For Neidlinger, the study of technology can be the doorway to life skills that transcend the subject matter. Using a combination of technical skills and a passion for creative thinking, he has become a mentor for young people in Newfane and beyond.

            About fifteen years ago, Bill joined NCCC teacher Don Voisinet in preparations for an NCCC Technology Preparation Consortium. They wanted to present the best of technology in a friendly competition that would bring the students and teachers together to explore the possibilities in a technology career. The NCCC Tech Wars began with Newfane, Starpoint, Niagara Wheatfield and Barker taking part and has grown to include many area schools. The amazing technical challenge caught on and served as a model for Erie County and Genesee County Community Colleges to form their own Tech War challenges. Most recently the NCCC group played host to an educator from Worcester, Massachusetts who is looking to take the program there. Tech Wars have challenged students to master technology and to apply those skills to a plethora of occupational choices.

            In the autumn of 1999, Delphi supervisor Dennis Black approached Bill with a new opportunity to challenge his students. FIRST, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” is the brain child of wealthy entrepreneur Dean Kaeman. At 18 Kaeman developed the first wearable infusion pump for intravenous fluids and has used technology for a host of inventions from medical machinery to the Segway, the electric transportation device. Locally, the Delphi Corporation was looking to sponsor a team in the international FIRST competitions. What better place to start than with a man who has already invested years in making technology fun for local students? This year will mark the tenth anniversary of Circuit Stompers, bringing together Delphi engineers and Newfane students. FIRST’s mission is to use wholesale marketing and media techniques to motivate the next generation to want to learn about science and technology and Kaeman has personally recruited scores of the top leaders of American industry, education and government in this crusade. Neidlinger has inspired his share of students to embrace technology as a career, and that makes him very proud.

            In 2008[update] over 1500 high school teams totaling over 37,000 students from Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the U.S. and the United Kingdom and more competed in the FIRST Robot Competition (FRC). Circuit Stompers revel in the chance to be a part of the annual competition. Teams are given a new problem to solve each year and are given six weeks to complete the assignment. In that time frame, Delphi engineers, teacher and students must brainstorm the concept, build prototype robots, refine and select their competitor and ship the 120 pound robot to the regional competitions, held in March. Bill refers to it as the “March Madness of science, math and technology” and students across the world are competing to win 41 regional competitions to advance to nationals.

            The cost of registration and the kit of parts are underwritten by corporate sponsors and teams generally fundraise to earn the addition amount they are allowed to spend on the project. For the students in grades 9 through 12, the extracurricular activity requires a huge commitment. Right now they are meeting from 4 to 7:30 p.m. daily, and will be working on their robot from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, in addition to their regular academic work and other activities. It is the passion for the possibilities that drives these young men and women and Neidlinger sees his role as mentor as “an experience that changed my life.” For the local team, fundraising is the summer challenge. The Circuit Stompers Booster Club helps out, with treasurer Sherry Bottom coordinating snack sales at sporting events. The rewards, beyond the thrill of accomplishment and competition are many. Each year the FRC offers scholarships for participants. In 2008 there was $9.8 million worth of scholarships from 108 colleges and universities, associations, and corporations.

            The 2009 competition theme is “Lunacy” with a play on lunar landing modules, and their robot, as yet unnamed, must be shipped by February 17 for the first regional at RIT in Rochester. They will also attend a regional in Philadelphia and a win at either event will take them to the April national event in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2003, the Circuit Stompers went all the way to national competition in Houston, Texas where they placed 5th. Neidlinger credits the unbelievable contribution of Delphi and i’s engineers and staff for ten years of total support for the project. The students, however, see Neidlinger as their shining star. His passion is infectious and he encourages his students to apply the technological lessons to a wide variety of practical applications, from electrical and mechanical engineering to computer programming. One former student is pursuing a career in industrial psychology. Neidlinger is encouraged by the fact that girls are as interested in technology as the boys and he’s mentored a few girls who had more mechanical aptitude than their male counterparts. “It’s gratifying to see young people grow in technological ability and life skills,” said Neidlinger. “They start as freshmen with little clue as to the process, and by their senior year they are designing and building most of the robot themselves.”

            Neidlinger’s influence started at home. Son Joe completed four years in FIRST and is in a cooperative study program at AVL in Detroit before starting at Kettering University in the fall to study mechanical engineering. Son Bob, 26, is a mechanical engineer who stayed in Michigan after earning an engineering degree from Kettering. Daughter Emily, 27, moved back to the area to start a teaching position in Wilson last fall. Jill, who will be 23 on Sunday, is in her fifth year at SUNY Brockport, earning a degree in history and special education.

            The awesome experience of Kaemen’s FIRST program has inspired Neidlinger to apply his own skills to life’s problems. He recently converted a 1978 Fiat X19 from a fuel-burning combustible engine to batteries and an electrical motor. He had a chance before Christmas to get it on the road for a run around town, but the heater-less vehicle is safely garaged until warmer weather. The next step is to be able to share that technology with students and further the cause of a greener America.

            Though retired now from BOCES, the Circuit Stompers get most of Neidlinger’s time and attention, but not all. A life member of Newfane United Methodist Church, he serves as chairman of the administrative council. Never idle, he still finds time to hay his wife’s five horses on their seven acre ranch, and to support her in all of her community activities. Sue Neidlinger is well-known in Newfane for her Shoppe on Main and tireless efforts to boost her community.

            In a world that advances in technology so rapidly, the task of inspiring and motivating young people to see the limitless possibilities of creative thinking and applied technology is a daunting one, but for this local man it is an important one. For influencing generations of future inventors and educators, the Spotlight shines on Bill Neidlinger and all those he has inspired to the world of technology.

Gratitude Quote #8

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.        William Faulkner

Very cold hands, very warm hearts!

Caught in the frigid fingers of winter’s chill, I find myself burrowing under the covers to warm the aching bones. I sneak a hand out to reach the phone, remote control or the laptop perched next to my pillow and I’m so much luckier than those who are shoveling and chopping their way out every day to go to work or school. I’m thankful for the chance to wait out most of Mother Nature’s fury from the comfort of my room.
I did venture out the other day to go to a free movie at the school with my nieces and while it wasn’t snowing, the ice and accumulation makes it really difficult to get around with the walker. I watched the evening news yesterday and saw a young man trying to roll his wheelchair several blocks from the city bus to his destination. The sidewalks are buried and he was forced to maneuver in the street full of inches of slush and ice. My heart ached for him because I know how challenging getting around in a wheelchair can be when you are flying solo. I don’t face a fraction of the challenges that he does but I can empathize with him and every other person who tries to stay upright in the ice and snow without full mobility and agility. Of course, he’s a Buffalo boy and we grow ‘em tough! I pray he’ll have much easier going for the rest of the winter. It was one of those gentle reminders that no matter how tough I may find my life on any given day, there are people everywhere with much greater problems.
Locally, a plow driver on his way home saw a car stuck in a drift and saw smoke coming out from under the hood. He and another passer-by managed to pull a 96 year-old man from the driver’s seat before the engine fire fully engulfed the car. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Those helpers didn’t care how bitter cold and nasty it was- they responded instinctively and bravely.
Sadly, a 42 year old man who was hit by a snowplow last week passed away. He was walking to a work site before 5 a.m. to check in for daily work. The plow driver left the scene and when the police caught up with him he was charged with being drunk; such a tragedy. But, out of misery comes goodness, and his family donated his organs to help others get another chance at life as a tribute to the kind and loving person they grieve for.
The whole point of this is that even in the coldest, darkest places there are rays of light. The best in mankind comes out in the worst of conditions. Whether it is someone shoveling snow or running errands for an elderly neighbor, or emergency responders braving the elements in emergencies, we as a people are strengthened by adversity.
Yes, it’s pretty cold out there but our humanity keeps us warm inside!

Gratitude Quote #7

As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily.  The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.   Adabella Radici

LOCKPORT’S RELAY FOR LIFE KICKS OFF!

IT’S RELAY FOR LIFE TIME AGAIN IN LOCKPORT! The Kick-off and Awards party will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 24 at the Elk’s Lodge. on North Canal street in Lockport. There will be breakfast-type refreshments, awards, fun and all the hugs you can handle!! It’s time for last year’s teams to get together to get psyched up for the area’s 9th annual American Cancer Society event at Emmet Bellknap School track. It’s also time for anyone interested in getting involved to come and meet the relay family!!! Our local Relay has raised over $1,100,000 for cancer research, advocacy and services and we’ve had a lot of FUN doing it!! This year’s theme for the June 20-21 overnight event is “Wave Goodbye to cancer”- a beach theme! Last year we had 77 teams and 129 cancer survivors to cheer on in our Survivor’s Lap. Thousands came to help us celebrate life and keep on the fight against cancer. Relay is an emotional experience you’ll never forget! This is the 25th anniversary of Relay For Life and they will be taking place all across America and other countries, too! It’s not an athletic event at all- it’s a gathering of hearts who care!

For all the info on our Relay, go to www.relayforlife.org/lockportny  I’ll be happy to answer any of your other questions. Don’t just think about the cancer monster, get out there and fight with us!

Words to ponder…

This is one of those anonymous email forwards that should be shared!

I Believe…

That just because two people argue,  doesn’t mean they don’t love each other.
And just because they don’t argue,
doesn’t mean they do love each other.

I Believe…
That sometimes when I’m angry I have the right to be angry,
but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.

I Believe…
That we don’t have to change friends if
we understand that friends change.

I Believe…
That no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.

I Believe…
That true friendship continues to grow, even over the longest distance.
 Same goes for true love.

I Believe…
That you can do something in an instant
that will give you heartache for life.

I Believe…
That it’s taking me a long time
to become the person I want to be.

I Believe…
That you should always leave loved ones with
loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

I Believe…
That you can keep going long after you think you can’t.

I Believe…
That we are responsible for what
we do, no matter how we feel.

I Believe….
That either you control your attitude or it controls you.

I Believe…
That heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

I Believe…
That money is a lousy way of keeping score.

I Believe…
That my best friend and I can do anything, or nothing, and have the best time.

I Believe…
That sometimes the people you expect to kick you When you’re down, will be the ones to help you get back up.

I Believe…
That maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you’ve had, and what you’ve learned from them…..and less to do with how many
birthdays you’ve celebrated.

I Believe…
That it isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others.
 Sometimes, you have to learn to forgive yourself.

I Believe…
That no matter how bad your heart is broken the world doesn’t stop for your grief.

I Believe…
That our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are,
but we are responsible for who we become.

I Believe…
That you shouldn’t be so eager to find
out a secret. It could change your life Forever.

I Believe…
Two people can look at the exact same
thing and see something totally different.

I Believe…
That your life can be changed in a matter of
hours by people who don’t even know you.

I Believe…
That even when you think you have no more to give, if
a friend cries out to you……..you will find the strength to help.

I Believe…
That credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being.

I Believe…
That the people you care about most in life are taken from you too soon.

******************

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything;
They just make the most of everything.

Thank you God for all the wonderful people who help us throughout the journey of life.

Gratitude quote #6

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~G.K. Chesterton