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The Future of Team 5940 at Stake

Ally Shirman | ashirman19@dtechhs.org | February 28, 2019

From half a hallway to the new Oracle campus, the robotics team has been a constant part of d.tech. But with lead mentor Nick Hom departing this year, many students are worried about the future of the team.

Nick Hom assembling the team’s 2018 robot. Photo by Matt Silverman

Since the beginning of the school year, the robotics team has been faced with a new challenge: being required to have a d.tech staff member supervising their build sessions, in addition to a d.tech parent. Wayne Brock, engineering teacher and a lead mentor of the robotics team, explains that “Oracle requires that if the [d.tech] building is occupied for any event that there’s one staff member present.” During last year’s robotics season, the team didn’t have to worry about this policy because they were still able to use the hangar of the Rollins campus for the rest of its lease – and only needed a parent to be present.

Hom was part of the team while he was a student at d.tech, and upon graduating decided to take a gap year before heading to college. Now, he works as a DRG assistant at our school. Part of reason Hom decided to stay was “because I knew that the [robotics] team [was] going to need some help.”

And help he’s given: “He fundraised 40,000 dollars for us,” Head of Fabrication Matthew Silverman states. Team member Matthew Morley continues the praise, “He’s really valuable for giving design feedback and his mechanical expertise. He’s an important mentor and has great contacts.”

More so, Hom has been integral for allowing students to stay in the DRG after school and work on the robot for the upcoming First Robotics Competition (FRC) – an event they participate in annually. “Nick [Hom] counts as a staff member.” Silverman says. Hom stays after school with the team to be the supervision required and to help out. “If we didn’t have Nick we wouldn’t have a robot,” Silverman believes. With Hom’s temporary stay at d.tech, members of the team aren’t sure what to expect for next year’s supervision of after school activity.  

“We’re going to compete this year, do the best we can, and then start figuring out what the hell we’re gonna do next year,” says Asa Bensaid, Head of Operations.

Though Brock potentially could supervise the workshops this year and next, “I would be doing 60 plus hours a week and I already do work in the nighttime.” Brock continues, “I just don’t have enough hours in my schedule. I think people don’t realize the scale of robotics and how much actual hours and time the kids, volunteers, and parents contribute.”

With Brock not being an option, not many current staff members would be “willing to stay late and not get paid for it,”  Silverman guessed. Even so, Brock isn’t too worried for the future of the team. “So far the robotics team has been a really integral part of d.tech. It’s kind of grown with d.tech. I feel the school’s committed to making sure that it exists in some form or another.”

Additionally, Brock believes that with some re-adjusting, the team can find ways to work more during school hours and less after school. Especially with next year’s change to the FRC competition, he thinks changes can be made.

In current FRC competitions,  robotics teams find out the objective of the year’s game, and then have six weeks to build their robot. At the end of that time limit, the robot has to be sealed in a bag and not touched until the competition. Next year, the plan is to allow teams to continue working on their robots, rather than bagging them after six weeks of work.

“If we can stretch the build over more time we don’t have to push into the night to do all these build sessions,” Brock explains. “Maybe there’s a whole new schedule we can do where there’s two weeks that robotics kids do their schoolwork at home and they just stay in the DRG too [in addition to intersession].”

Though Brock is optimistic about the future of the robotics team, Bensaid doesn’t “even want to think about [the possibility of next year’s failure],” and Hom believes without a replacement for his position, “We will not be able to build our robot. We cannot survive with just Wayne. There needs to be another staff in my position.”

With or without a new staff member dedicated to the team as Hom is, Brock believes the future success of the team depends on the students themselves and their willingness to work together to figure out a new plan. “If the kids want to do it, then they can put in the work and make it happen,” Brock says. “This is a student run team; that’s always been the case.”

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