Manneschmidt is ‘Mr. Mentor’

Farragut FIRST 3140 Robotics team mentor Eric Manneschmidt, left, won the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award at the Smoky Mountain Regional Robotics competition held in March at Thompson Boling Arena. Team member Patience Simes, right, who won the Dean’s List Award at the same competition, nominated Manneschmidt for the honor.
Eric Manneschmidt of Farragut has put his heart and soul into mentoring area robotics students, but said his real joy comes from the students themselves.

It is only fitting that long-time robotics team mentor was honored last month in the name of one of the originators of the FIRST Robotics competition program, and he was nominated by one of the students he mentors.

Manneschmidt, who has worked with area robotics teams and competitions since 2001, won the Woody Flowers Finalist Award at Smoky Mountain Regional FIRST Robotics competition held in March in Thompson-Boling Arena.

The award is named for FIRST co-founder Dr. Woodie Flowers, who was the first to receive it. It is given to “mentors who lead, inspire and empower” the individuals and teams they serve.

Manneschmidt currently volunteers with the Farragut Flagship 3140 FIRST Robotics team, and was nominated by student team member Patience Simes (herself nominated to the Dean’s List at the regionals), who described him as “a natural mentor because of his extensive coaching experience and his servant heart.”

Jane Skinner, FHS teacher and Flagship 3140 sponsor, agreed, and said, “Eric Manneschmidt is a ‘volunteer’ at heart. He is incredibly involved with youth volunteer programs. He has been with our team almost from the beginning and has actually been involved with the FIRST program longer through the FLL teams.

“He not only volunteers to help our team, but also judges, referees and inspects robots at all the competitions we attend,” Skinner added.

“He is a quiet leader, but does so much to promote youth programs. He is a fun person to be around and seems to really enjoy helping with the team.”

Manneschmidt first became involved with competitive team robotics though a LEGO Robotics Invention System robot he and his wife, Margaret, had ordered for their eldest son, Noah, as a Christmas present.

While that gift was backordered, the family “stumbled” upon an exhibit and competition for what was the LEGO FLL team at the American Museum of Science and Energy. That group used those same robots, where ironically, Noah actually won the LEGO robot his family had ordered.

From that experience, Manneschmidt said he and his family became “totally sold on the program.”

He decided to head up a team for Fellowship Home Educators, as the couple’s children, which, in addition to Noah, included Ellen, Mary, Amos, Ward and John, were all homeschooled until entering high school.

“You end up being involved in what [your children] are involved in, and it is kind of addictive,” he said. “It was just a lot fun, which was a big reason to keep doing it.”

That enjoyment has continued for Manneschmidt down through the years, as he moved from the FLL teams to the FRC teams, which uses larger robots.

All the Manneschmidt’s children served on the LEGO teams, and three, Amos, Ward and John, have also been on the FIRST 3140 team.

Manneschmidt said he is one of about 15 mentors for the team, which has between 35 and 40 members.

He works at Oak Ridge National Lab, and said this year, the agency agreed to do some volunteer machining for the Farragut team.

Manneschmidt said he was surprised to be the mentor nominated for the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award. “Every year they nominate someone,” he said. “There have been other mentors [nominated]. I am not necessarily the most active. I have served a lot of time, and many, many years, but there are a lot of folks who have involved since the first generation.”

While another mentor went on to win the Woodie Flowers Award, Manneschmidt said he “was honored to be chosen (regional winner). It was fun to be nominated, but it is the students who make it something I want to be part of.”