Plane crash takes life of Castilleja School mentor

Doug Bourn helped students learn robotics

Doug Bourn spent Tuesday evening the way he spent many evenings: in a basement at Castilleja School, helping members of the robotics team prepare for an upcoming competition.

Telling the girls he had to fly to Los Angeles Wednesday morning and probably would stop in the next night, he left at 8 p.m., earlier than usual. He told them he was excited about his trip.

On Thursday, while other Castilleja students enjoyed their winter break, a half-dozen members of the school's "Gatorbotics" team worked to complete their robot for an upcoming Portland, Ore., competition and reminisced about their mentor, who died Wednesday morning when the plane he was piloting crashed.

"He came by whenever he could -- he said it was a way for him to relax," said team member Nandini Mukherjee, a Castilleja senior, who plans to study mechanical engineering.

"He was extremely generous. If we needed something he would say, 'Oh, I just happen to have that at home.

"And he was always an advocate of having the right tool at the right time. Sometimes we would kind of sketchily put together stuff with duct tape and he would say, 'No, you need to plan this out and have the right tools,'" Mukherjee said.

An electrical engineer, Bourn began volunteering at Castilleja six years ago, initially on the electronics side of the team. But soon, he was helping both with the mechanical "build" side as well as the electronics.

"He knew a lot about coding and he could always help us fix our sensors," senior Caroline Abbott said.

"We would literally have plumes of smoke and Doug could fix it," said team captain Sherri Billimoria. "And he would show us how to avoid that mistake in the future."

Like high school robotics teams elsewhere, the Castilleja students are preparing for the 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

The team is supervised by Castilleja science teacher Doris Mourad.

In a six-week time period, students must design and build a 120-pound robot that can drive a soccer ball over bumps and later lift itself on a tower to a height of 7 feet.

Bourn often traveled with the Castilleja team to the competitions.

"He made the time," said Castilleja parent Beth O'Malley, who said she sat with Bourn at many of the competitive events. Her daughter Erin, now studying biotechnology at Rice University, was a member of the team through high school.

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