Team 64, The Gila Monsters, was started in 1998 by a group of General Motors engineers led by a bright young go-getter named Michael Rush. He searched for high schools willing to participate in the FIRST program that GM wanted so desperately to mentor. Mike, the leader amongst the engineers and the teachers, combined two high schools with two completely different backgrounds and made them into one focused team.
At the beginning of each build season, Mike organized engineering projects, such as a mouse trap car or the sturdiest tower of straws. He separated the team, breaking clichés within it, and focused on the importance of teamwork with strangers and friends. He also separated the team during the first week, and told them to develop ideas for their ideal robot. He, then, united the ideas and made a realistic hodgepodge out of it.
Not only was he the mastermind behind many of their innovative designs (which helped to win numerous awards), he also treated all students with equal fairness and showed them how to engineer even if that was not their forte. Mike would always lead by example; when a student would ask him how to do something, like drill a hole, he would always drop what he was doing and show the student how to drill the hole. Rather than doing a task himself, he would go out of his way to find a student to perform the task. He also taught the importance of maintaining gracious professionalism on and off the field, by always helping teams in need and by making friendships amongst the toughest competitors.
When he left the Gila Monsters to pursue his own career, he still served as a mentor to the many teams he made relationships with while on team 64. Carol Popovich, of the Arizona Regional Planning Committee, states that Mike “taught other interested FIRST volunteers how to mentor teams, thereby increasing the reach of FIRST to new teams” and personally donated to the Arizona Regional. As of this season, he put aside his personal time to devote himself to a rookie team, who seems to have a promising chance as a formidable competitor at the Arizona Regional.
Mike’s accomplishments with the Gilas were only the beginning. While on team 64, Mike spawned relationships with students and teachers that would follow him even after he left the Gilas. Mike had the special ability to inspire anyone he came in contact with. Mike’s leadership on the Gila Monsters helped inspire others to start new teams. Teams 498 and 812 were started by a teacher, Rob Maineri, from team 64 who asserts that Mike “gave students a passion for engineering and science through not only his words, but with his obvious love for the profession. I am a better mentor, teacher, team coordinator, and person because of him.” Team 1011 was started by a group of students who were particularly close to Mike and wanted to pass on his message to a new group of students.
Mike Rush is a man who has become a mentor of mentors and changed lives of students, teachers, and members in the community of FIRST. He always has time to promote the genuine spirit of FIRST. More importantly, he encourages students to learn and teach others just as he has done. Mike teaches mentoring workshops several times a year to help out new and struggling mentors from all over the southwest. As the Gila Monsters have been successful, so have the offspring of Mike’s first team. Mike will always be an outstanding mentor and an even more extraordinary teacher.