Meet The Mentors

Mark Smith - Team Mentor


  • Technical Advisor – Data Analytics
  • Electric Power Research Institute, Palo Alto CA
  • BS: Industrial & Systems Engineering Texas A&M
  • MS: Systems Engineering, NC State University

   Mr. Smith has more than 30 years experience in numerous manufacturing and systems engineering and leadership positions starting with Compaq Computer Corp. in 1988 and then moving to electric utility industry (NRG/Reliant) in 2002 working in product innovation and data analytics/data science leadership roles.

   FIRST Robotics: Mr. Smith first became involved with FRC 3735 in 2013 as part of a company wide initiative to match NRG employees with FRC teams in their area. Mr. Smith has been with the team ever since as lead mentor, performing non-technical mentor/ coordination roles and leading the boosters organization. Mr. Smith has interests in leadership development, sponsorships, analytics, and strategy. He hopes to continue adding to his FIRST knowledge with JAVA programming and advanced control in coming seasons.


Sandra Ziebell - Business Mentor


  • Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, L.L.P.

     Sandra Ziebell has been affiliated with VorTX 3735 since 2012 as a parent, board member, and mentor. She is currently the Business and Outreach Mentor. Sandra has been a litigation paralegal in Houston since 1988. Sandra has worked on cases pertaining to oil and gas, construction, securities, patent and trademark infringement, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, fraud, theft of trade secrets, shareholder rights and class actions. She has handled white-collar matters at the pre-trial, trial, and appellate stages. Sandra has assisted in dozens of trials in state and federal courts, representing plaintiffs and defendants ranging from Fortune 10 corporations to individuals. She has been a paralegal at Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, LLP for over 19 years and is a former senior paralegal at Norton Rose Fulbright. Sandra remains active in the legal community as a member of the Houston Chapter of Women in eDiscovery.

Melody Laser - Communications Mentor


  • Booster Club Secretary

       Mrs. Laser became involved with VorTX in 2017 when her son joined the team. Even without a technical background, she enjoys helping students, parents and mentors work together. Mrs. Laser loves seeing our students figure out how to work together to solve problems, learn useful skills, form lasting friendships, and of course, build really cool robots!

Mahmoud Baagil - Mechanical Mentor


  • Solution Architect, Oracle Solutions in Federal, State, and Local Government
    I360 technologies, CSRA, CSC, Deloitte Consulting

Mr. Baagil has over 25 years of Management Consulting experience in support of implementing Oracle
Enterprise solutions in various industries such as High Tech, Manufacturing, Medical, and Defense and
Federal Agencies. Mr. Baagil has helped many clients design and implement complex multinational ERP
solutions or custom enterprise applications. Mr. Baagil’s hobbies include RC model airplane and sports
and nature photography.
Mr. Baagil joined the VorTX team in 2017 along when his daughter joined as a team member. He has
enjoyed sharing his experiences and watching the students come up with and implement their creative
solutions. He looks forward to continuing his relationship with VorTX for many years to come.

Robert Mechler


  • Director of T&D Project Development
  • Black & Veatch, a global engineering and construction firm
  • BS: Electrical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin
  • MS: Power Systems Engineering, University of Texas at Austin

   Mr. Mechler has over 34 years of experience in the electric utility industry and has worked for an investor owned utility, a wholesale generation developer, and an unregulated electric retail provider. He is a registered professional engineer in Florida and Texas. Additionally, he has been involved in youth programs including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, marching band boosters, swim team/meet officiating, Ballet Company/set builder, Teach Across America, and school advisory boards.

   FIRST Robotics: Mr. Mechler first became involved with FRC 3735 in 2017.  Mr. Mechler has supported leadership development, corporate sponsorships, fabrication, electrical and pneumatic systems, and shop safety. He hopes to continue adding to his FIRST knowledge with motor and control systems integration in coming seasons.

Jay Naik - Electrical Mentor


Work Life

  • Automation and Controls at Nabors Industries
  • Sr Software Engineer at Halliburton Down Hole Tools (MWD/LWD)
  • Diverse Experience Avionics / Nuclear / Digital Communications
  • Entrepreneurial minded / Professional Communications / Public Speaking
  • Problem solving.


  • Masters of Science (Automation and Signal Processing Focus) - Penn State University
  • Bachelors of Science Electronics - Spring Garden College
Mr. Naik has 30 Years of electronics, software engineering and industrial control systems experience. From early childhood, he has
been passionate about electronics and electrical engineering. He hopes to inspire the next generation of engineers and innovators,
as a technology professional.

Nathan Leach - Programming Mentor


  • Software Engineer: FinTech, Entertainment, Electric Utility, and Oil & Gas industries
  • MS: Computer Science, University of Houston

       Mr. Leach is a software engineer that has worked in the FinTech, Entertainment, Electric Utility, and Oil & Gas industries. He has been programming since elementary school starting with BASIC on a TRS-80 Color Computer with 4kb of memory. He earned his BS in Computer Science from California State University, San Bernardino in 2000 and his MS in Computer Science from University of Houston in 2011. Mr. Leach has a life-long interest in STEM; as a child, he proclaimed to his parents he wanted to be a chemist when he grew up. The very next Christmas he received a microscope and a chemistry set; all was well until he was sickened while experimenting with random mixtures of chemicals. From that point forward, a healthy interest in non-chemistry STEM was encouraged by his parents. Later in life he earned a technical certification in computer electronics before going on to a 4-year university. This led to combining his interests in programming with digital logic circuits, embedded applications, and machine control. He was urged by his children and their friends to join the VorTX team as a mentor where he works with the programming team and produces the occasional instructional video to share with the FIRST community.

Ken Jordan - Programming Mentor


      Mr. Jordan has been programming since ever since he graduated from High School in '83 when Mr. Jordan's dad started his own business, which sold cash registers, and Mr. Jordan would help his dad install them. These registers were based on the Basic programming language, and Mr. Jordan would help program them.

      Mr. Jordan's programming experience has grown from there becoming proficient in Basic using Visual Basic 6.0 and VBA. He currently develops applications using Microsoft Office apps and MS Access. Mr. Jordan's main programming language is Visual Basic, but he has done some programming in Java, Javascript, and Jquery. In addition, Mr. Jordan has been introduced to C, C++, and C#.

David Funk - Electrical Mentor


  • Northern Telecom, local telephone and interconnect companies
  • Compaq Computer Corp
  • RLX Technologies/Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • HP/HPE

     Mr. Funk has over 40 years of electronic engineering experience in various fields including telephony, CATV, PBX, computer systems R&D and computer manufacturing. Mr. Funk has been an avid electronics hobbyist since grade school building tube based radios, stereos, video broadcast cameras and test equipment. Mr. Funk's hobbies include model railroading, model rocketry, Christmas lighting animation, underwater ROVs, RC aircraft, including drones, and ham radio. He has built a computer controlled model railroad, intelligent payloads and computer flight controllers for model rocketry and assists teams with the Small Satellites for Secondary Students program (S4). Mr. Funk also mentors teams that participate in Team American Rocketry Challenge (TARC).

       FIRST Robotics: Mr. Funk first became involved with FRC 3735 after meeting the team at the 2017 Houston Maker Faire. Mr. Funk has been with the team ever since as a technical mentor. He hopes to continue adding to his FIRST knowledge by also volunteering with competition field setup.

Joe Cusack - Programming Mentor

Bio: Mr. Cusack currently teaches at Klein Collins. The classes he teaches are AP Computer Science, Computer Science I, PreAP Computer Science, Independent Study - and robotic programming and design. Mr. Cusack is the coach for the robotics team VorTX 3735, Computer Science UIL club, and the Web Coding Club for non-profits. He has been an educator for more than 10 years. This is his 4th year working at Klein Collins. Prior to being an educator, he has worked in the information technology field for more than 10 years ranging over hardware, networks and software engineering on multiple platform ranging from mainframe, to pcs.