There comes a time in every student’s life when one of their teachers truly inspires them. This person patiently and humbly helps them learn and grow in ways beyond the required curriculum. For 30 kids at Granada Hills Charter High School, that teacher is Joseph Vanderway; coach of the RoboDox, team 599.
Mr. Van is the very image of the ideal instructor. He patiently works with his students to ensure that they understand what they are doing and presents everything in easy-to-understand and sometimes riotously humorous language. In his dealings with others, he always communicates intelligently and with humility that makes him admirable but very approachable. He is also a man of very strong moral fiber. He would have to be to coach the RoboDox, who are well-known throughout FIRST for their gracious professionalism and their dedication to helping other teams succeed. Though this tradition is due to the ongoing decisions of the team members, no one can deny that it is his personal integrity that inspires us to such sportsmanship.
Always a pillar of support, his contributions have been more than academic. He has time and again proven his reliability and trustworthiness to those who approach him. First-year member Miranda Bethune said:
“Mr. Vanderway is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever had. I could easily launch into a whole speech about how brilliant Mr. Van is, but I truly believe that what defines Mr. Vanderway isn’t his genius or his ability to teach - it’s his heart of gold that makes him who he is. Mr. Van has been there for me - not just as a coach, or as a teacher, but as a friend. He believes in me, and he has given me self-confidence and helped me to believe in myself. This has been my first year on this team, and I had known nothing about robots, but Mr. Van would encourage me to try any idea I had, no matter how ridiculous it seemed. But he’s done so much more for me than simply believing in me.”
Junior Megan Lysholm has been awed by Mr. Van’s compassionate assistance on several occasions. Reflecting, she recalls:
“Throughout this year, Mr. Van has served as a sort of father to me. He was there for me when I needed him and no one else really could be. For that, I really could not sum him up or describe him in any better way than ‘Mr. Van is awesome.’”
Mr. Van is one of a kind. He is the only coach we know of who is also a Shakespearean actor and pursues archery as a hobby. Learned, eloquent, moral, and artistic; he is a true renaissance man. One of his greatest assets is his ability to captivate the attention of his pupils. His body language, sense of humor, and animated manner of speech blend together into a theatrical, captivating, and genuinely educational whole that leaves his audience amused and enlightened. His oratory skill is so great that he has been called upon by FIRST on many occasions to serve as announcer for competitions, even in which RoboDox did not compete.
Every year, at every competition we attend, the members of team 599 watch during the awards ceremony as a great mentor is given special recognition for their outstanding contributions to their students and FIRST alike, and think, “Why not Van?” After all he’s given to us, FIRST, and everyone he meets, we feel that he deserves nothing less than the greatest honor that FIRST can bestow upon an individual. He is truly a FIRST class man.