Dear President Authement,
I write this letter with a deep sense of affection for you, an affection derived from the immense impact you have had on my life, second only to the impact of my parents.
It all started in December 2003, when on a whim my colleague Dr. Charles Cavanaugh and I decided that we wanted to participate in the DARPA Grand Challenge. The challenge sought to attract the best brains in robotics from around the world. In contrast the two of us had no experience in robotics. Charles and I went knocking on a lot of doors, trying to convince people that UL Lafayette ought to field a team in this challenge. By and large we were ridiculed for even thinking to compete with the Big Boys. We heard statements like “This challenge is for MIT and Stanford. We do not have the ability to compete in it.”
In January 2004 we learned that there was one person who was willing to bet on our effort. That person was “Doc.” And the bet was real, since “Doc” had also allocated $60,000 to the project.
Having “Doc”, the President of the University, stand behind us when all others were hesitating was an exhilarating experience. While all others were focused on the consequence of failure on the world stage, you were singularly focused on the immense benefit of competing with the big boys on the world stage.
The success of Team CajunBot can be attributed directly to your “hidden hand” behind us. The marvel of your “hidden hand” is the tremendous expertise that is available today on campus. As someone who knew nothing about robotics, I had to look for help in almost every area – mechanics, electronics, sensors, control systems, and what not. I have always been amazed that whenever I needed help I could find it within 100 meters of my office, right here on campus. And the help I have received has been world class. The incredible amount of talent on this campus did not happen by accident. Its a result of your vision, your leadership, and your “hidden hand.”
What you have done to Team CajunBot, I have learned you have done to others across campus. You have made the faculty and students believe in themselves. You have made us believe that we are second to none, that it is our time to perform on the world stage, and that should we fail you would still be in the bleachers cheering for us. Team CajunBot exemplifies what is happening in the splendid new buildings across campus. Every day I meet colleagues and students who are striving for multi-million dollar projects, competing for the monies with the best in the world. You can see it in their eyes and their voices that they not just have the confidence to dream, they also have the confidence to convince the world that they can deliver on their promise.
Your words after our return from the 2004 Grand Challenge are a great source of personal pride to me. You said that “Team CajunBot has put the university where it belonged, right at the top of engineering education.” It is that pride from your encouragement that continues my team and I to strive to for the top.
As you step into retirement, you are leaving behind a very confident university, a university that is ready to demand its share of history, a share it would not have attempted to claim without your vision.
We love you,
Leader, Team CajunBot
Finalist 2004, DARPA Grand Challenge
Finalist 2005, DARPA Grand Challenge
Semifinalist 2007, DARPA Urban Challenge