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Reflections on a Tribute to Woodie Flowers

From left: MIT student Zach Rolfness, alumna Dawn Wendell, and Mechanical Engineering Department professor David Wallace.

By Isy Osubor MIT ‘21

I walked into 10–250 on Jan 29, for the first time since freshman year chemistry not quite knowing what to expect. Prior to seeing the flyer for the Festival of Learning, I didn’t know who Woodie Flowers was. However, over the course of forty-five minutes, I learned about Woodie from three of the millions of students and people he impacted. Each speaker had their own “Woodie-ism,” a quote from or about Woodie that reminded them of who he was in life and how he guided them.

Zach Rolfness, an MIT sophomore studying Mechanical Engineering was first introduced to Woodie when participating in Legoland where he watched a promotional video about FIRST Robotics, the international robotics organization Woodie co-founded. Zach joined FIRST Robotics and eventually became a Deans List award recipient in high school, an honor given only to ten students worldwide each year. Woodie’s presence and passion inspired Zach to join FIRST and come to MIT to pursue his passions.

Zach’s Woodie-ism: I want to see us as a community celebrating students and science the way we celebrate our sports stars.

The second speaker, Dawn Wendell, was a former student of Woodie’s and one of his advisees during her time at MIT. She first met Woodie her freshman year of high school and he was the reason she became an engineer. During her time as an undergrad, Woodie helped shape her thinking and values because he valued personal connections and people above all else. To Dawn, Woodie’s emphasis on the human element of teaching is paramount to helping students achieve their potential and it is how she approaches her teaching.

Dawn’s Woodie-ism: Teach the Woodie way.

Finally, David Wallace, who leads the legendary Mechanical Engineering capstone class, 2.009, spoke about how he and Woodie created not only this class but also 2.007, another important milestone for many undergraduate Course 2’s. Wallace remembers Woodie as a mentor, friend, colleague, and so much more. He reminisced about the numerous people he has encountered in life who were impacted by Woodie; a woman on a plane whose daughter fell in love with engineering because of FIRST, the little girl in China who looked up to Woodie and grew up to be an engineer in MIT’s labs, and countless others. David concluded by saying that in the world of Mechanical Engineering, we are all children of Woodie in one way or another.

David’s Woodie-ism: Mother nature applies all of her laws all of the time.

Woodie Flowers was a human before an engineer who truly impacted every person he met. As a mechanical engineering student who never got to meet him, I can’t help but feel a loss. However, I am grateful to have heard about his life values and now see him as proof of following one’s passions and caring about others. Perhaps, by proxy, I am one of Woodie’s grand-children.

Watch the video of Roflness, Wendell, and Wallace honoring Woodie’s legacy.

Watch the memorial video of Woodie’s life and work.

About the Author:

Isy Osubor, ’21, is an MIT student majoring in mechanical engineering

Originally published at on January 31, 2020.




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