As an engineer for GM, Dave Verbrugge has been involved in getting some exciting technology on the road like the active air shutter that is now used on the Chevrolet Cruze ECO model to enable it to get 42 mpg highway. In addition to a management degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he also has engineering degrees from Calvin College, the University of Michigan and Purdue University. But just because he’s an accomplished engineer doesn’t mean he walks around with a pocket protector and a too-short tie. When you see him at the Michigan FIRST Robotics Competition events, he’s usually in the middle of the field, stalking and talking, pointing his finger, jogging from one end to the other and waving team flags. All the time he’s firing up the spectators who have crowded into the gyms to see high school students pit their robots against one another.
Dave got involved with FIRST Robotics Competition back in 1997. He mentored the students on Team #67 which includes the Huron Valley (Michigan) school district. FIRST was launched in 1992 by inventor Dean Kamen who wanted to get more students interested in careers in science and technology. Dave was among the first GM engineers to step up and volunteer his time to help the students. Now 15 years into his commitment he’s still doing it and you can hear the pride in his voice as he says, “We’ve had a number of students go on to engineering careers up to Michigan Tech, Kettering (University,) University of Michigan and a number of them now are GM engineers.”
While the students on his team know Dave for his mentoring, the parents and students from hundreds of other schools know Dave from his Master of Ceremonies (MC) duties at many of the competitions. Dean Kamen saw Dave’s performance at a local FIRST Lego League event and asked him to do the same job for the FIRST Robotics Competition. So he spends most matches with a microphone his hand, standing in the middle of the field, extolling the virtues of each of the teams that has put in the time and effort to build a robot. He even gets to MC the international finals and he admits that role gives him the best seat in the house when it comes to watching the competition.
While he is on the field announcing, he misses the teamwork and camaraderie that happens off the field during a FIRST Robotics Competition match. He says, “There’s great action on the field, but it’s almost even better what you see taking place in the pits, because that’s where you’ll see students and mentors working together. If a team’s in trouble, they can go to the team next to them and start sharing ideas, parts, whatever.” He says it’s not an “in your face” sport, but a combination of cooperation and competition. It is what FIRST and Dave call “CoopertitionTM.”
In 2002 Dave Verbrugge won the Woodie Flowers Award. This award is annually given to one mentor who leads, inspires and empowers their team. Winners demonstrate effective communication in the art & science of engineering and design. The award is named after FIRST National Advisor and MIT professor Dr Woodie Flowers for his tremendous skill in that area as well as his Gracious Professionalism TM. It’s a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. Even if Dave doesn’t come across as a typical engineer, GM is proud that he is developing the right values and skills in our next generation.