A Life Well Served

A Life Well Served

Mike Warner, BS ’66, attended California Western University as a freshman, but he transferred to Baylor in order to better prepare for dental school. He arrived at Baylor sight unseen, traveling to Waco with a small group of fellow Baylor students from the Phoenix area. It was his first trip to Texas. Such adventurous pluck was indicative of the life Warner was about to live—a life defined by service.

Born in Michigan, Warner and his family moved to Arizona when he was 5. He remained in the Phoenix area until beginning college. At Baylor, Warner roomed with a transplant from Chicago in Kokernot Residence Hall. He joined Kappa Omega Tau (KOT) and quickly got involved in the Baylor community.

“I loved that organization and the experience with it,” Warner says. “Some of my pledge brothers and I worked with different organizations in Waco that allowed us to expand our service beyond the confines of the campus. The whole atmosphere at Baylor was about giving back to your community. That’s a great thing for kids to learn at that age.”

“The whole atmosphere at Baylor was about giving back to your community. That’s a great thing for kids to learn at that age.”

Ironically, Warner never attended dental school. After graduating from Baylor, Warner began an entirely different line of service—the United States Navy. He was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, flying search and rescue missions from aircraft carriers. Among his many missions, Warner rescued six people at sea during the war. One of those he rescued was an A-7 Corsair II pilot who was forced to eject.

Following Vietnam, Warner flew anti-submarine missions off frigates. His non-flying Navy positions included personnel officer, assistant maintenance officer, safety officer, operations officer and Joint Service Air Operations Command. He also was a speech writer and prepared daily briefings.

Warner spent two five-year stints stationed at Naval Air Station Barbers Point and USMC Camp Smith in Hawai`i, where he and his wife Mary Ellen were frequent participants in community activities. He was junior warden of an Episcopal church on base, tending the grounds, doing electrical work and anything else needed at the small chapel.

“I remember my eighth-grade English teacher saying, ‘You’ll never graduate high school,’” Warner says. “I took that as a challenge.”

In 1987, Warner retired from the Navy after 20 years of service. He and his family settled in Tempe, Arizona, where he joined America West Airlines and spent 10 years working with ground operations and cargo sales. During that time, Warner earned a post-baccalaureate secondary education degree in mathematics and technology from Arizona State University, paving the way for his next career—a teacher at Tempe High School (THS).

“I remember my eighth-grade English teacher saying, ‘You’ll never graduate high school,’” Warner says. “I took that as a challenge.”

Now, he is in his 20th year at THS. Additionally, he has taught math, physics, environmental science and meteorology as an adjunct associate professor with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

During Warner’s fifth year at THS, a freshman, whose mother had died after a bout with cancer, asked about the possibility of starting a robotics team. Warner helped the team begin and continues to serve as the team’s faculty advisor.

Many of the students become first-generation college students; others go directly into a trade. Warner says the club has successfully encouraged many to enter science, technology, engineering, math—STEM-related fields.

“I’ve had a very diverse group of kids,” Warner says. “Mostly, but not all, Hispanic students. We’ve seen the growth of the program because the kids have a passion, and quite a few of them come back to help mentor.”

“We feel like a family, and Mr. Warner unites us,” Nuñez says. “My favorite memories were when we would reflect at the end of a competition or a build and learn from our mistakes.”

Two years ago, Warner retired from full-time teaching. However, THS asked that he continue his work with the robotics team.

Naomi Nuñez, a 2018 Tempe High graudate, was one of several female students to have been president of the THS Robotics Team. Nuñez says Warner’s dedication to the team is an inspiration to the students and that his support is invaluable.

“We feel like a family, and Mr. Warner unites us,” Nuñez says. “My favorite memories were when we would reflect at the end of a competition or a build and learn from our mistakes.”

Warner says the intensity of the robotics team helps students build a strong work ethic, and that it helps them develop a determined mindset. The team has a relationship with Arizona State called Young Engineers Shape the World, which encourages females to pursue engineering. Also, THS is one of 30 schools nationally selected for the Verizon Innovative Learning program designed to encourage STEM engagement.

“The intensity of the robotics team helps students build a strong work ethic,” Warner says. “And, working as a team develops a mindset that they can do whatever they set their minds to.”