Flowers was instrumental in shaping MIT’s hands-on approach to engineering design education, developing a design competition for class 2.70, now called 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing I). This annual event has been a formative experience for MIT MechE students for nearly five decades and has been emulated at universities around the world. Flowers expanded this concept to high school and elementary school students, working to help establish the world-wide FIRST Robotics Competition, which has introduced millions of children to science and engineering.
Flowers is survived by his beloved wife Margaret Flowers, his sister Kay Wells, his niece Catherine Calabria, his nephew David Morrison, as well as generations of grateful and adoring students.
I traveled with Woodie to several FIRST Championships. When they were held in Kansas City, the flight we often took was also full of teen competitors, who would begin to point out Woodie in the terminal and shyly approach for autographs. What amazed me most was on one particular flight, a flight attendant came on the plane as we were readying for departure, and said that a very famous person was on the plane and welcomed Woodie Flowers. The plane's occupants were ecstatic and hooped and hollered cheering for Woodie. It gave me such encouragement that all these young people held Woodie in their hearts as a real hero. His gentle and generous spirit made him my hero too.
We were on a tight time line to prepare our toy race car and Woodie was so helpful. He had much much more to teach us but gave us exactly as much as we could handle in the time available, great memories of a wonderful man.
Woodie's Design 2.70 Introduction to Design class, more than any other experience, taught me how to collaborate, how to design, and how to think about the art of engineering at MIT. His work profoundly changed how engineering is taught at MIT and around the world.
2.70 was one of my favorite classes, and Prof. Flowers was a fitting professor to teach such a fun and interesting topic :)
Very sorry to hear this news. I took 2.70 with Woodie in 1975 - he was one of my favorite professors, and he inspired me to appreciate good design and build a career around CAD/CAE/CAM technology. My thoughts are with his family and friends. RIP Woodie.
When I took 2.70 in ~1978, the competition was a single-elimination tournament, which would result in one ultimate winner. Woody introduced the class (televised for maybe the first time) as “one winner and 157 losers)”. A wonderful and inspirational teacher, I remember him cruising around the campus on his rollerblades when I was there for grad school in the 90s.
Woodie was my advisor. I was initially star struck after being a huge fan of the Scientific American frontiers show as a high schooler. He was witty, relaxed, kind and very generous with his time. He helped me to embrace my creative side which gave me the confidence to embark on my career in Product Design and Innovation. Thank you, Woodie, for believing in me and helping me to become the person that I am.
Woodie was the kindest and most impassioned educator I ever worked with. He inspired us to build better and never give up in the face of any problem. His spirit lives through in all of the mechanical engineers he trained to believe in the power of design for the greater good.
This is sad news. Woodie Flowers and his signature course at MIT was undeniably the highlight of my academic experience at MIT. What I learned in that course was the foundation for the rest of my career, setting the trajectory of what I've done and how I approach design. Through his network, I found my first job: one of his fellow grad students came back to MIT to recruit and ended up hiring me into a great start up opportunity, and as they say, the rest is history. My dad, Y.T. Li, was also teaching at MIT back when I was an undergraduate, and although my dad was many years older than Woodie, he respected Woodie and they collaborated many times. At major milestone events for my dad (90th birthday party, memorial service), I was touched that Woodie attended those
My BS thesis under Woodie was an analysis of ballerinas' toe shoe design and the biomechanics of their feet in the shoes. This was the 80's, so there wasn't any prior data to draw on. I went to the Boston Ballet and asked to talk to the dancers, and they were so thrilled someone cared they bent over backwards to get me anything I needed (I still have a box of old shoes they donated). I also wanted data on the forces generated by dancing, but the force plate was built into the floor of Woodie's lab. So the ballerinas agreed to come to me and dance across the plate. It took a while to reset the data logging gear between collects, so the ballerinas would stand about for several minutes between runs. Most data collection days overlapped with what was then "ME Beer Hour" in the open area in Building 3. Woodie's lab faced right into the beer hour. And this was the 80's, when the male/female ratio in ME was still pretty poor. So, there's free beer and snacks right outside the door, and nothing to do while I fussed with the computer. So the ballerinas would go out and have a beer while waiting. You could actually see the effect of the alcohol on their dancing abilities over the course of the afternoon as I continued to collect data; the jumps and pops got a bit sloppier. :) On top of this, we're talking about a group of professional dancers who *want* an audience, dressed in skin-tight leotards, standing near free beer, in a department that was about 90% male. Word spread, and by the second day of testing it was a madhouse outside Woodie's lab! We had to keep the door locked or too many students would "accidentally wander in." Years later I stopped by to visit him, and Woodie pointed at me, saying "I remember you! You're the ballet guy!" :)
I know Woodie from countless stories from my husband, Alex, ME 1980. But the most memorable moments come from my daughters' experiences with FLL and FRC. The FLL and FRC experiences are life changing for my daughters and the other girls (now young women) on their teams. The FLL teams started with giggling, fidgety 4th graders that morphed into competent, strong, analytic women by the time they graduated from High School Space Cookies team. They have since gone on to mentor other students and champion "Gracious Professionalism" and live "you can do it better, try again" mentality. FLL and FRC programs develop critical skills for all types of students. The experience directly enhances the ultra-nerd to the artistic creative child. These programs have the capacity to expand the abilities of all gender expressions and racial diversity. The floor of World Championship demonstrates the possibilities of human capability. This is the incredible legacy that Woodie leaves to us, our children, and global communities. I embrace the vision and possibilities that Woodie and Dean created with these programs and wish that all our youth had access to participate. Woodie Flowers made our world better and I am so glad to know his impact.
Thank you Woodie. I will always remember your enthusiasm and brilliance. You helped me solidify my desire to pursue course 2.
Woodie was such a force for good. I remember meeting him at a FIRST robotics competition when I was in high school, and later seeing him at MIT and being awed by his "celebrity status". Rest in peace Woodie, you will be missed.
I remember Woodie well from his graduate student years when we would both spend time in the Course II student machine shop. This would have been in '69 - '72, when I was working on my thesis project, making car parts, repairing things for friends, etc. Woodie was often in the shop, was such a character that people were drawn to him and was an easy guy to get to know. I recall him making a reproduction of a sculpture originally done by László Moholy-Nagy, which I had to admit was a lot more sophisticated than my humble projects.
I got to know Woodie when I took his design class while working on my master's degree and he gave me a job as a TA in 2.70 when I returned for my PhD in 1987. I remember him saying, then, 'if you think you're working hard now, wait until you're a professor!' I always thought of him as a mentor and always felt he cared about me, even when it was sometimes hard to hear some advice after my thesis dragged on for years.
Woodie gave me my first A+ grade at MIT, in 2.70. And a model from my 2.73 project, also my Thesis, was on display in the halls of the M.E. Department for many years.
Really saddened today to hear Prof Flowers' passing -- 6 years as David Wallace' grad student, I remember always seeing Prof Flowers on and around the 4th floor close by our lab. He is kind, down to earth, and always has a smile on his face. May he rest in peace and we will always remember him.
I have learned an enormous amount in my almost 20 years at MIT but from no-one as much as from Woodie Flowers. His dedication and thoughtfulness about teaching, design and especially ethics have made lasting contributions to MIT and to the engineering world.
I was privileged to have Woodie as my freshman advisor and I would often show Woodie my various projects. One day I showed Woodie a folding bicycle I had designed and built which was compact but only marginally stable and barely identifiable as a bicycle. With a big smile Woodie personally engaged with the project, at his own peril, by riding it up and down the ME department's 4th floor hallway. Glimpses of Woodie passing by their classroom doorways riding on a rolling...something....prompted students to abandon their classes and come out to see what was going on. Woodie celebrated all creativity with humble disregard for whether it was his own work or another's. His educational style nurtured wonder, excitement, and enablement culminating in his contributions to FIRST. As I begin my 6th year as a FIRST Robotics FTC Team Mentor and Coach I hope to convey to students the same sense of discovery, wonder, and possibilities that Woodie conveyed to me. Some suppose that the value of having an education at MIT is its firehose of knowledge but Woodie taught me that the value is really the ignition of passion conveyed by personal interest and relationship. Woodie knew how to produce that igniting spark in the lives of others and I thank him for it.
Woodie made a positive impact on every stage of my MIT career over the past 16 years. As an incoming graduate student, he gave me sage advice about how to navigate the matchmaking process of choosing an advisor - advice I still impart on incoming grad students today. As a new faculty member, he told me the war stories of his own tenure process while providing assuring feedback that I would get through it alright. Now, and for hopefully for many years into the future, I think of Woodie constantly while teaching 2.007 "Design and Manufacturing I", the modern embodiment of his historic 2.70 class. His vision of hands-on learning and teaching design through a side-by-side apprenticeship model lives on in our class. As does the fun and excitement about design that he imparted, and the ethos of "gracious professionalism" shared by all of the staff and students. He will be missed dearly by all of us.
I had the good fortune to work with Woodie from 1991-93 on the inaugural New Products Program. A wonderful teacher and all round great person. His legacy will live on through all the people whom he inspired. RIP.
Infectious kindness and gracefulness describes my interactions with Woodie Flowers. After enjoying my interactions with him in 2.70, I had to gather all my courage to ask if he would be my thesis advisor. I knew he was already stretched, but to my utter surprise, he graciously accepted and made himself available. For my thesis, he was the one who came up with the key insight sitting beside me in an empty lab after my having done so many destructive tests of football knee braces. When I requested his recommendation for grad school, he asked me to write up my goals - and then gave feedback and graciously challenged me to be even more bold in my thinking. To me he was, and will remain, a giant. Woodie, thank you for being there! I will miss your always gracious presence and insightful feedback.
Prof. Flowers was one of the individuals that motivated me to compete in FIRST in high school. If it wasn't for FIRST, I probably would have never made it to MIT. Thank you, Woodie, for inspiring countless to strive for knowledge and pursue their dreams. You will be sorely missed.
Woodie was just finishing his PhD when I arrived to join Bob Mann's group, and my earliest memories were of his elegant design for the "Boston Knee", (I knew immediately that I had high standard to live up to.) Soon he joined the faculty and became a mentor to me and others and I attribute much of my success at MIT to his wise counsel. I got to witness and judge several of the early 2.70 contests, and was in awe of how he created and ran a class that engendered so much enthusiasm, even without electronics and motors. But surpassing all of that were the times I got to work directly with Woodie, most importantly on 2.73 (The forerunner of 2.009) where he showed me a whole new level of student involvement and understanding. He was a unique soul, an unmatched teacher and we will miss him greatly.
Just last night, a high school student interested in STEM asked me what it’s been like as a woman in a man’s world (Math undergrad, MechE grad school, and Tech career). I can only speak about my own personal experience. I have been blessed in school, university and in my career to have found men who have encouraged me, taught me, pushed me, supported me, and inspired me. Top on that list was Woodie Flowers, my thesis advisor at MIT. He held a weekly meeting of his advisees (which included Hugh Herr and David Wallace, both now superstars in the MIT community and beyond). Many years later, Woodie shared that because he didn’t have kids of his own, we were all his kids. And that’s how I felt. A year after receiving my Masters Degree, I was still struggling with finding the right job, and I didn’t know what to do or where I was heading. I was lost and discouraged, so I finally went to Woodie for advice. In classic Woodie fashion, he asked, “When you were a child, what did you dream of doing?” The question took me by surprise, but I admitted that I had always wanted to do a startup. Woodie introduced me to the MIT Technology Licensing Office, which led to the founding of Z Corp. by Walter Bornhorst, Jim Bredt, Tim Anderson and myself. I am overcome with gratitude to Woodie for shaping my education and my career. He was so generous with his time and his heart. Meeting him for an hour always opened up the world to me. Woodie was and will remain an MIT legend.
So sad to hear Woody's passing at such a young age. I still vividly remember his creative activities at MIT when I was also working on my doctoral degree. RIP, Woodie!
Woodie was a great guy, excellent teacher and mentor with some of the best real-life lessons that I re-use to this day, delivered with the softness of a velvet-lined glove. He was the first to mention the KISS rule to me, and also to "avoid marriage" (the engineering kind). These are two rules I preach to all my mentees and startup founders to this day. Nice job Woodie, your spirit lives on!
Though I only had limited contact with Woodie, I remember him as the most approachable and warm professor I have ever met. At the onset of my Masters I had the chance to come by his open office, where he greeted me and shared his personal experiences as a student and provided advice as a student just starting their time at MIT. He was so warm and humble, that I had to ask about his Emmy award, which was in the corner of his big desk in his office.
Prof. Flowers serve as an inspiration to pursue practical greatness through practical innovation within the classroom. He also had a lasting impact on my perspective of philanthropy and giving back to the community through his involvement and leadership in FIRST competition. One of my fondest (and surreal) memories was standing next to Prof. Flowers and Dean Kamen at Kamen's mansion in New Hampshire as part of FIRST event. R.I.P.
This is sad news. What a man worth celebrating! He brought joy, creativity and fun to design and engineering. Woodie was the original "Design Thinker". I know his legacy will carry on in the 2.70 challenges and in the hearts of all of us who were touched by his incredible energy. He will be missed.
I shared a test cell with Woodie when we were both working on our Master's. Both from small towns, we were a bit in awe of MIT. We parted when I finished an ScD and went away to teach and he remained at MIT for his PhD and remain there. Seven years later, I was back for a sabbatical with Henry Paynter and our friendship picked up again. We lunched together, had TGIF beers on Fridays, visited each others homes, took ski trips to New Hampshire. Woodie was one of the most creative and entertaining people I've ever known, married to a lovely southern belle, Margaret, both great company. One of my greatest experiences on sabbatical was teaching a section of Woodie's 2.70, his famous and much copied course and design contest. Attending his classes and mentoring a section of young student designers was a profound pleasure. I think it likely that 2.70 was the inspiration for Warren Seering's Advanced Engineering Design graduate course which he and I co-taught for several years 35 years ago. Following Woodie's pattern, that course involved student groups designing solutions to client's problems. Several of these prototypes were evaluated and adapted by their sponsors. Woodie's influence continued when I introduced a rather Flowers-like design course at my alma mater in Nova Scotia, running a contest much like Woodie's. Thousands of students have benefitted from Woodie's love of design and teaching -- I'm sure his methods and courses are copied in universities all over North America. A remarkable man it was my pleasure to know. I'll miss him.
I still remember my first day of class with him over 2 decades ago. He started with a life lesson from his own experience and then asked us to introduce ourselves by describing a special skill we had that might be useful to the group. After class, I approached him with some ideas I'd had for unrelated inventions, and he took the time to listen, seriously review my proposals, and give me patent advice. He was no-nonsense, but kind. He made a point of helping us to work together rather than competitively. Of emphasizing the value of letting others help you refine your design, even though we'd ultimately be pitting those designs against each other. As smart as you may be, a different perspective always has the potential to shine new light on what you might not have seen. I was just thinking of him a few days ago. I don't even remember what brought him to mind. But he's stuck with me. I'm saddened to hear of his loss. He'll be missed.
Woodie Flowers was an inspiration as I went through the undergraduate mechanical engineering program in the late 1970's. His energy and enthusiasm for design embodied what makes MIT such a wonderful. He will be missed, he will be remembered fondly, and he will live on through those he mentored and led.
I enjoyed your insights and experiences as my career progressed.
I was honored to have Woodie on my thesis advisory team, where I would receive great ideas on a regular basis from this kind, generous, creative, intelligent and wise man. I stopped by years after graduation and he welcomed me into his office to hear about my career and learn of his recent exploits. He was a legendary professor, designer, advisor and human being that left a lasting impact on my life. He blessed so many people in life and I pray God blesses him richly into eternity.
I transferred to MIT in the fall of 1974, and took 2.70 either in the fall or spring of 75. I believe it was early in the years of that class, and I was so moved by Professor Flowers infectious enthusiasm for the course material and the students in his class. I loved his quirky bow ties and his prancing around the front of the class as he taught. I am saddened by this news, but happy that his life's work touched so many students in a positive way. He will be missed.
I met Woodie at a FIRST competition when I was 16. The interaction itself was unremarkable, but the gargantuan impact of that weekend was undeniable. FIRST was my first introduction to engineering and, more importantly, my first introduction to engineers. It taught me lessons about leadership, grit, and "coopertition" that underpin my career to this day. It also gave me the subject material for my MIT Admissions essay, which evidently was a good topic. I am deeply grateful to Woodie for helping to create such an enduring, powerful organization. I will think about him as I gear up for my second season as a FRIST mentor this year.
Woodie was my advisor. He was an incredibly engaging and nice person and often had some wisdom to share. One piece of wisdom he shared that I never forgot - and have shared with many others, in his name...he said "Barry, when you are having trouble deciding between two alternatives, realize that it doesn't matter which you choose. If it's so difficult to decide, they must both be good options and there is no way to know which is best. So don't worry" His impact on me in this and other ways was very deep. I will always remember him with fondness.
Thank you Professor Flowers for Course 2.007 and for teaching us how to reduce to practice solving a real world problem by creating and building a "robot." I am grateful for the leadership and enthusiasm that you had to distill your knowledge into young engineering students and for exemplifying "mens et manus." Rest in peace!
I received my SB in Course 2 at MIT in 1977. Of all my professors I liked and remembered him the best. I especially liked his enthusiasm and spirit. I never knew until right now that he had just earned his PhD a few years earlier. For a "beginner" he sure did his job well.
Woodie was great to know, I only had him as instructor once (2.70) but wish there were other times. He took the Skip Barber Performance Driving class at Lime Rock with me once, it was a big surprise to see him at the enrollment. A good driver, he had good focus and a feel for the car.
Woodie and I had a lively conversation just a few months ago at Olin College's commencement. He was a big enthusiast of photography, particularly with respect to technical advances. He told me about a new digital sharpening technique that employed artificial intelligence (AI) and he was practically jumping up and down over how neat it was. I'll always remember how excited he could get over an idea or a technology and how happy it made me to be in the company of such a person.
Woodie and I were grad students working under Bob Mann in 1969-1970; me on the Boston Arm and him working on an artificial leg. Woodie was especially close to our fellow student Stephen C. Jacobsen who earned a Ph.D about the same time as Woodie. Being around Steve and Woodie together was pretty close to an out of body experience. They were rather amazingly brilliant and two of the most creative individuals I've ever known. If Steve hadn't already passed from this world in 2016 I'm sure he would have some salient memories to share and I'd like to think the two of them are reminiscing right now. I haven't seen Woodie since we said hello at Bob Mann's memorial service a few years ago but I have one memory to share which captures the essence of childlike brilliance that I associate with Woodie. Steve, Woodie and I were driving to a conference together, I think about 1978 when Woodie suddenly yelled "stop the car"! I quickly pulled over, having no idea what the emergency was. He had spotted a rare caterpillar by the side of the road which had to be examined. I knew nothing about caterpillars then and still don't today but the memory of these two genius friends of mine being thrilled by this beautiful specimen of life stays stuck with me. I felt smarter just being around the two of the them. Woodie certainly lived a "life worth living."
As a transfer student into MIT MechE in 1986, I remember 2.70, my first ever introduction to Engineering Design, with fondness. 1986 was tug-of-wars, and one of the years where the staff made placebo robots spewing dry ice clouds.The memory of Woody Flowers, his energy and insight, continue to inspire me to this day. I feel immensely lucky to have been directly touched by Prof. Flowers' awesome educational approach to engineering design.
I contacted Woodie on my possible studies at MIT before beginning my Master's in 1994, and he responded right away. He convinced me that studying at MIT will definitely change my future career, and so it did. We have talked and contacted on several issues regarding many aspects of Mechanical Engineering and its future, both during my studies and after I graduated. He was a great scholar and a great enthusiast. He will be missed greatly. My condolences to his family, friends and the MIT community.
I remember Prof.Flowers always with a smile. He taught us that engineering was creative and fun. One of the classes I most enjoyed was 2.70. He taught us and also let us shine. It has been many years since I finish my degree, but I will always remember him. Thank you for being a great person and a great professor.
Woodie was one of the best ones. Very few professors at MIT mad me feel like the world was a positive place and I had something to contribute. It was an easy place to get lost. Woodie was exceptional and made me feel seen and valued. He gave me hope. I will always be thankful for his kind influence in my life.
Another icon of our times has passed away. People like Prof. Flowers made MIT and in turn America Great! All of us are indebted to his creativity and ingenuity not only in ME but also in his teaching methods. Our thoughts and prayers for peace and solace for his family.
Thank you Professor Flowers for having a profound impact on my life and career. Your course inspired me. The enthusiasm and perspective you brought to your subject matter affected me and all of the students in our Class. Thank you for being an amazing instructor and mentor for ALL of us! You will be truly missed.
I looked up to Woodie as a student following him in our programs at MIT. I've seen the effect of his teaching style and enthusiasm spread to my current university (Georgia Tech) and to other universities and programs around the world! The essence of Woodie Flowers will live on through these places for ever.
I have the joy of seeing both sides. I took 2.70 from him and saw him again this past April at FIRST World Festival. He was mobbed by teens clamoring for autographs. He spoke kindly to each kid. I introduced myself as having taken classes from him. He asked me if I remember anything. I told him, "I can still draw a grasshopper, and calculate one BTU with my bum." He chuckled, paused, and said, "Oh, we could tell some stories," and went back to interacting with the kids.
I have fond memories from Woody's 2.70 class in 1985. It was great to see him last year (after 33 years) at the First Robotics Championships in Houston last year. He was a phenomenal teacher, a visionary leader and a outstanding person. I'll never forget Woodie!
A highlight of my MIT studies was time spent in a mechatronics lab in the center championed by professor Flowers. His impact was considerable if one considers I took no classes from him, did not work in his lab, and yet I fondly remember his presence, good cheer, and clearly evident contributions. God bless his spirit and those he leaves behind.
I remember Woodie as a really gentle teacher. He was always smiling and eager to hear the broken English spoken by a foreigner like me. He made a design competition to be a symbol of education at M.I.T. Without his passion, the design competition had been a simple activity held in a small class. He will be missed very much, especially in the current situation where most professors are interested more in writing research papers than teaching.
In late fall 2006, as part of the 2.009 teaching staff, we arranged a student field trip to test Archimedes' Steam Cannon with the Mythbusters in New Hampshire. At the end of the trip, as we were boarding the busses to head back to Cambridge, Boon the dog (who lived on site) eagerly jumped aboard the bus, too. It was Woodie who happily volunteered to wrangle Boon and bring him down off the bus -- but not before stopping to pose for this photo. To us, this photo captures Woodie's spirit perfectly: kind to all, happy-go-lucky, and always willing to help out! After leaving the department in 2008 and moving to Thailand, we have continued to think of Woodie, and are grateful to have had the good fortune to work alongside him! - Mika Tomczak & Sittha Sukkasi (PhD '08)
I was one of the first beneficiaries of the FIRST program when Prof. Flowers brought the 2.70 robotics competition to a Boston public high school in 1992. It was because of this that I got into mechanical engineering and MIT. Thank you Prof. Flowers.
Woodie was the best undergraduate adviser you could ever imagine. He asked me very poignant questions regarding my goals and career aspirations which informed my academic path and my eventual career. He was always supportive and honest; amazing integrity. I'm so very grateful I was able to learn from him
I had the pleasure of working with Woodie when Assistant Dean in the Office of the Dean of Engineering. Woodie was always full of ideas and challenges for his students. We worked on several approaches to secure corporate funding for novel industry/academic new product design initiatives. Whether rollerblading down the hallways or sliding down the 77 Mass Ave railing, he loved a challenge, a good laugh and some serious design work. Woodie will not be forgotten.
I felt a profound sadness upon hearing about Woodie's passing. He was one of my most memorable professors back in the mid 70's and he was a great one. His accomplishments since then do not surprise me and I know he made a lasting impression on so many of us. The world is a better place because of him.
I cannot say Woodie “was" because he will always be “is” His love for teaching and design was simply pure and sublime He was also a fantastic design whiz and he did it all, 'cause thats who he is
I was so lucky to have Woodie as my 2.70 prof way back when he first started. He not only taught ME, but life skills as well. I handed in a project assignment, after scrambling to get it done the night before. He asked to meet with me the next day, when he very kindly said, "This is not your best effort, you can do way better. It looks like you pulled this together in one or two nights." Busted! But rather than accepting my middling effort, he gave me another week to rework it. A lesson I never forgot. You'd better put your best effort forward, because others will notice.
Thank you for this message. Woody played a big part in developing my enthusiasm for engineering and Course II, and I am very grateful for the gifts he has given to so many young minds.
You may know that Woodie helped found the FIRST robotics competition with Dean Kamen but you probably didn't know that it spawned a whole new generation of Woodie groupies. If you see Woodie at the competitions, he's like a rock star, the kids just flock around him. Just look at one of his shirts that the kids all rushed up to sign (I've signed a few, too). Woodie, is there one at the Smithsonian? In addition to all he's done, he's coined the phrase, "gracious professionalism". Thanks to Woodie, the next generation of engineers in this country are not only going to be awesome, but they will be able to get along with each other, too. Woodie and I have something in common. The first time he was on TV was the same first time I was on TV, for the first NOVA show on the 2.70 contest in 1981. Woodie had asked me if I wanted to be a referee. You can see a 20-year-old Mindy as referee during that competition. Woodie was also a little bit younger, then. (Remember that Woodie had gotten his PhD in 1973 so he's only a few years ahead of us.) The difference is that that was my last time on TV, while Woodie went on to be a NOVA super star. I think I learned more from being a referee for 2.70 than I had from participating in the competition the previous year. I didn't know it at the time but it definitely was my first step toward becoming a mediator. As Woodie always says, society gets what it celebrates, so tonight Woodie, we're lucky to be celebrating with you...
Professor Woodie Flowers was a deep thinker, superb engineer, and visionary teacher with extraordinary worldwide impact. Woodie, you have touched so many of us. You will forever continue to inspire us. Your passion goes on. Thank you, Woodie.
I grew up with Woodie in Jena, LA. He was 2 years older, so we really didn't "hang out" a lot. He was good friends with my best friend Ray Tidwell. I would see him all the time at Ray's house. Woodie built a car at his fathers welding shop. (I do remember the shop as a "wonderful" place. It had all sorts of welding equipment. I wished so much that my father had one too, but we only had a gas station.) I remember it originally was an old Plymouth (this was about 1962). I think he cut 3' out of the middle and then fabricated all of the body parts with the exception of the front fenders. The front fenders came off a Model A ford. It looked sorta like a fancy roadster with the spare tire on the back. I think it was painted black. I so wish I had a photo of it. Woodie would let Ray drive it some and Ray would pick me up to take me to school. It probably was really quite dangerous...no seat belts, no license, no insurance....I do think it had brakes though. Woodie had a basket tied up under the hood. He had put some old car parts in the basket. He could pull a trip wire and the parts would fall out on the street. He only did this if girls were watching!! Then he would gas it and spin the rear tires. The car was very light and would spin the tires very easily even though it only has an old 6 cylinder engine. Ray told me one day he and Woodie were "cruising". He stopped at one of the traffic lights and noticed a car full of girls. Woodie pulled the string and dumped out the parts. He then revved up the engine and dumped the clutch to spin the tires. The only problem was it threw the driveshaft out into the street. The girls were laughing their heads off as the guys had to push the car off the road. I hope I have not used more than my maximum, but he was a good influence on my life as I went on to earn my BS degree after military service. I communicated via email with Woodie several years ago, but not recently. I am sad to hear he is gone.
Professor Flowers was a great teacher, a friendly advisor and a great man. His 2.70 was a highlight of my years there. I am hopeful that current and future students will experience Professor Flowers's life work in their ongoing learning.
I got to know Woodie during my tenure as the department head and learnt a great deal from him. He is a pioneer on experiential learning and hands on education. He inspired many students around the world to get into engineering through First Robotics Competition, modeled on MIT 2.70 that he developed and taught for many years. He deeply cared about our department and championed for our colleagues and alums. It was a great honor to have the opportunity to learn from and to work with Woodie.
Woodie's mission of making design accessible came through in everything he did—and everything I do. From my 2.70 (2.007) failure, to when I struggled to restart MIT's FIRST robotics team, to when I contemplated work at IDEO, I can remember the critical role of his warm smiling eyes, kind calm words, and [tough, when necessary] love so clearly that I feel I'm back in his always creative-yet-neat office. Today his mission of accessibility lives on in so many ways in the world—my work (innovatorscompass.org) is just one of them. Thank you, Woodie.
I had the pleasure of meeting Woodie my Junior year of MIT. We talked for over an hour about our beliefs and ideas for the future of education. And while his wisdom is undeniable, I mostly remember his kindness towards us students and his willingness to share his knowledge with any and all. Woodie was a true inspiration for mechanical engineering students everywhere in the world, and his legacy will continue on forever in each and every one of our hearts. Rest in peace,,,
In an age when the political right increasingly assails the intellectual and moral authority of science, and the political left equates technology with cynical manipulation, irresponsibility and greed, Woodie Flowers was the gentle, kindly face of scientific and technological enterprise. For him the grand mission of innovation in both science and technology was not only to deepen our understanding of the universe and make a sustainable home for ourselves in it, but also to introduce into our world an ennobling, civilizing spirit capable of speaking to all varieties of human experience. He taught us that the exercise of ingenuity in pursuit of scientific exploration and invention could empower us to discover new landscapes of regard for each other, creating knowledge capital no less valuable than the discovery of any material fact. Here, he believed, lay the opportunity to devise new tools and occasions, as important as any physical contrivance, to unite us into a commonwealth of mind. The humility, sincerity and good humor of his faith in the triumphant dignity of intelligence as an unfailing beacon shone through consistently, not just in public but in his private conversation, when he gave of his vision, learning and perceptive intuitions with rich generosity. Woodie and his philosophy of technology and life were one, leaving us a legacy that not only inspires us but dares us to make of scientific and technological endeavor an even greater thing than we have dreamed to be possible.
I was waiting in line to pay at the cash register in Lobdell while holding the gray plastic tray. Professor Flowers was in front of me and I kept looking at him because his face seemed very familiar. He must have felt my stare and he looked back at me and I asked "Do I know you from somewhere?" He said, "Maybe, my name is Woody Flowers." As soon as I heard his voice it dawned on me he was the host of Scientific American Frontiers which I watched growing up in Texas. He was part of the reason I went to MIT. I owe so much to him and I will never forget.
Thank you for showing the way. My grandsons are in high school and belong to their hands-on robotics club. Thanks to you, they travel to competitions and enjoy peer support at home competitions. Your example and memory will live on for generations.. Safe voyage Thanks again
So many anecdotes come to mind! I knew Woodie as a grad student from '88 to '90, had classes with him, and generally a fun friendship. Running into him one day I shared the many things I was involved with, or wanted to be, and didn't know how to navigate. He advised "Make friends with the knot in your stomach!", which I share with young MIT friends who can also use the advice. He gave me advice on designing my own 2.70 contest for a HS class "Make sure to include features in the contest that the students cannot fully plan for, so there are ways for them to save face". He could combine competition with a respect for the players' humanity! Just a couple of years ago I saw him in the hall, and I cautiously approached him, hoping I could reintroduce myself. At my hello, I got a big grin and hug - and an introduction to the person he was chatting with, soon to become a new friend. Like the rest of MIT, I will remember him fondly and do my best to share his spirit.
I first met Prof Flowers in class 2.70 in 1978-79 – the Brass Rat contest was quite the event! It was my surprise to see Woodie Flowers again in 2008 when I became a FIRST Robotics team mentor. He showed up on the big screen opening day, still teaching us engineering. Through that program, Woodie brought the whole 2.70 experience to so many high school kids – it was fantastic. I was able to share some of my MIT inspirations with my son. Thank you, Woodie.
Professor Flowers' class was one of the highlights of my MIT education. I am not much for design, and wasn't a great student, but I loved the opportunity to think about problems with a design mindset and to work with my hands in building things. I appreciated the competition, but also the other projects that allowed us to design, for example, equipment to aid the disabled in their lives and work. Professor Flowers' was relatively young in my day, but I am sure he never lost his infectious enthusiasm. What an inspiration to students; I'm sure he has many 'academic offspring' throughout the world who've made this Earth a better place from Woody's efforts.
Woodie is the reason I am a mechanical engineer. As an undergrad at MIT I studied physics, but along the way I heard about a class called 2.70 and gave it a go. I remember sitting in lecture, transfixed as Woodie taught perspective drawing by -- of course -- doing it. Some big blocks slowly coalesced into a truck carrying an ICBM (those were different times!). 2.70 was an experience of sheer exhilaration: designing a robot, building it in the shop, watching it fail, scratching my head, and then going at it again, rushing headlong toward competition day in 26-100. For the first time, physics was real. And I was hooked. I stayed at MIT to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and worked in the Newman Lab alongside Woodie’s students. Like many of my peers, I was focused on robotics, but once again Woodie came along to remove the scales from my eyes: he offered a class in industrial design. I remember designing a programmable thermostat and watching my roommate’s sister completely misunderstand the user interface. This time, it wasn’t my understanding of physics, but my understanding of people, that had failed. Yet, the cure was the same: learn what reality is teaching you and make it better. I took those lessons from Woodie with me to Northwestern University, where I’ve been on the faculty since 1988, teaching design all along the way. I can only hope to have paid back some of Woodie’s endlessly gracious professionalism.
Woodie Flowers and his former student, Professor David Wallace, have created a fun, teamwork-based approach to learning the art of mechanical design.
Since the 1970s, MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering course 2.007 has introduced undergraduate students to hands-on designing and building.
Beloved teacher and pioneer in hands-on engineering education, Flowers developed design and robotics competitions at MIT, FIRST, and beyond, while promoting his concept of “gracious professionalism.”