“He has broken the code, if you will, of what other people have tried to achieve,” Callahan said.
Susan Cerilli, Fleig’s guidance counselor for all four years at Portsmouth High School, gave him a lot of credit for taking on such a daunting senior project.
“I love that Tyler always thinks outside the box,” she said. “He could have done something less difficult. He could have taken on an easier senior project, but he chose to do something that would be impactful and make a difference in people’s lives by doing what he is interested and super talented at.
“That says a lot for his character,” she said.
She described Fleig with such terms as exceptional, mature, humble, extremely motivated and focused. “He is a true gentleman, a kind-hearted, good kid,” she added. She wasn’t the only person with high praise for Fleig, the son of Rick and Carlene Fleig of Portsmouth.
His robotics mentor Rich Hammond, an engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, described him as a wonderful guy with great character and a good work effort. “He is very passionate about the things he does,” Hammond said. “He is very passionate about robotics and very passionate about sailing.”
Although Fleig was introduced to robotics in middle school, he became deeply involved in NUWC’s robotics team known as AIR Strike 78 as a high school freshman. AIR stands for Aquidneck Island Robotics.
“I immediately got into the programming and the electrical and computer side of the team and the robot,” he said. “I really enjoyed that. I thought it was so fun to work so hard on something for six weeks and learn all that you can learn and see that product that you made do really well in a competition.”
The AIR Strike team has gone to the FIRST World Championship every year for the past four years and is regarded as a very successful team. Last year, Fleig received an individual award as a FIRST Dean’s List World Finalist. He said he sees a connection between the robotics team and the real world. “In the real world, people who work on a project have a budget they have to follow, they have time constraints, they have to listen to others, they have a limited number of people,” Fleig said. “They are trying to develop a product, the same way we were trying to develop our robot.
“I can see how it connects to the real world,” he said. “I just enjoy it a lot.” Fleig also has established an impressive record in sailing. He was captain of his school sailing team as a sophomore, junior and senior and qualified for the High School National Single Handed Championships in his junior and senior years. He competed in the CORK International Sailing Regatta in Kingston, Ontario, from 2012-14 and was a member of Team USA at the International Youth Regatta in Nieuwpoort, Belgium, in 2011.
He has used those sailingskills to help sailors with disabilitiesat Sail to Prevail.“We take people with all kinds of disabilities — intellectual and physical — and we take them out sailing,” Fleig said. “We teach them how to sail and give them a really good time. A lot of times, it is the only really fun time they might get that week or that day.”
The program reaches people as young as 5 and some in their 60s or 70s, including veterans with disabilities. “It’s a great program,” Fleig said. “I am really grateful for having participated.” His achievements go beyond sailing and robotics. He is a member of the National Honor Society and was named Freshman of the Year and Sophomore of the Year.
He skated with the school’s hockey team in his freshman and sophomore years and later was a member of the cross country team, earning a Coach’s Award. He founded and was the president of the school’s Cyber Patriot Team/Computer Science Club, which finished first in Rhode Island in the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.
Callahan said he spotted the “genius” in Fleig several years ago and knew that he just needed an outlet.
“The organization is so proud of him because he exemplifies everything that we stand for by using all his skill sets and talents for the benefit of others who are limited in their abilities,” Callahan said. “He is an unusual fellow. We see people who are extraordinary and are equally excited about sharing their gifts. Tyler is an extraordinary example of that.”