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Wednesday

August 2014

20

Building the future, one robotics student at a time

Vertz to be inducted in Trailblazer Hall

Way before STEM education became popular, Lauren Vertz was promoting science, technology, engineering and math. A 1976 graduate of Kettle Moraine High School and a 1979 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in business administration and finance, Vertz stepped into the world of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) when her daughter joined the FIRST robotics team at Oconomowoc High School in 2000.

The team needed help with fundraising, "and that was something I could do," Vertz said. Now, long after her daughter graduated in 2002, Vertz is still working with CooneyTech Robotics Team 269 and has helped many other robotics teams along the way.

Vertz's involvement in FIRST prompted her daughter, Paula Kummrow of Ixonia, to nominate her for the 2013 Laser Trailblazer Hall of Fame.

"I think she's done a wonderful thing for science and technology education in Oconomowoc and probably much of Southeastern Wisconsin," Kummrow said.

Throughout the past 13 years, Vertz has helped numerous robotics teams in the area, including Kettle Moraine and Arrowhead, and provided countless FRC demonstrations. She has helped with VEX robotics, done judging for FIRST Lego League, and now is helping with Junior Lego League in Stone Bank, where her grandson goes to school, along with her work with CooneyTech.

Vertz served on the Wisconsin Regional FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Planning Committee for about five years, served as chairman for the committee for three years and was awarded the Outstanding Volunteer Award at the 2008 Wisconsin regional competition.

The Oconomowoc Area School District recognized Vertz's efforts with the Dick Davis Friend of Education Award in 2004 for her voluntary contribution to education in the district.

When Time Warner Cable held a contest a couple of years ago to find people who have promoted STEM education, Vertz sent an essay explaining her work with FIRST robotics and won $5,000 for CooneyTech, which was shared between Oconomowoc FLL and VEX teams.

People ask her why she continues her volunteer work with FIRST even after her daughter has left the team.

"I think I get way more than I give," Vertz explained. "I think that I'm very fortunate to work with really interesting teenagers who are doing interesting things. They are so inspiring."

When people complain about the outlook of the future as younger generations take over, she sees a bright forecast. "It looks pretty good to me because these kids will solve the problems," Vertz said.

Vertz sees the hard work and ingenuity FIRST studentsdemonstrate. She knows what FIRST did for her daughter and has seen it turn quiet, shy kids into confident, capable youth.

"I felt like they (FIRST mentors) saved my daughter's life," Vertz said. "They gave her goals. The engineers adopted her. I've seen that happen with so many other students in the program."

When Kummrow joined CooneyTech robotics, she was in "a very bad place," she said.

"It literally saved me from failing out of high school," said Kummrow, who now has a degree in mechanical engineering. "The fact that she (Vertz) continues long after I'm gone is fantastic."

Vertz will be inducted into the Laser Trailblazer Hall of Fame at 9:15 a.m. Friday, March 22, in the KMHS west gym, along with fellow inductees Bill Meyers and John Mezydlo. Watch for stories on Meyers and Mezydlo in upcoming issues.

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