By David Wang
Sometime last January, Reid Fleishman was watching the clock in his 9th period Chemistry class. It was a wintry afternoon, no different from any other afternoon in the middle of January. As his teacher, Ms. Rubin, explained solubility curves, Reid counted down the seconds until 2:33 p.m. because he had someplace better to be.
When the bell rang, Reid made his way to the Tech Hall. Familiar faces and voices greeted him as he stepped into Room 207. He met them with his own trademark nod and simple ‘hello.’
Among the sawdust-coated workshop benches and battered safety glasses, there lay a glimpse of the future. The atmosphere of the room was laid back, with a hint of ambition hanging in the air. This feeling was the result of the months that the team had spent together trying to achieve their goal and a prelude to the hours, days, weeks, and months of hard work to come.
That relaxed feeling was interrupted by the booming voices of Mr. John ‘Motch’ Motchkavitz and Mr. Matthew Corrigan, two of the team’s faculty advisors. They came to give the team a pep talk and remind specific groups—like CAD (computer-aided design) architects, who construct a digital layout of different robot parts before they’re ready to be built, or programmers, who code the software that goes into making a fully functional robot, or engineers, who actually create the robot itself—of their duties.
As the team’s advisors retreated into their office, the team jumped into action. The team doesn’t operate on a “really rigid structure; it’s very autonomous,” said Fleishman. “Generally people know where to go and have their groups and they work on their own.”
Despite this, the team’s advisors play a pivotal role in guiding the team’s efforts. The advisors are quick to answer the questions that the engineers-to-be have to ask and provide wise words of wisdom gathered from years of experience. They caution the Robotics engineers about the danger of “over-engineering:” adding so many solutions to fix a problem that it ends up being harmful to the quality of the final product.
In layman’s terms: ‘too many chefs spoil the broth.’
Along with fostering the team’s competitive spirit, Motch also looks to promote the virtue of “gracious professionalism” which he describes as “winning without knocking the other teams down.”
The Rebel Robotics team (#2638) sets a high standard for sportsmanship and teamwork. They’re part of the Gold Coast Alliance, a “group of teams on Long Island that have come together to form a collaborative robotics environment,” which includes local teams like Port Washington and North Shore. Despite representing rival schools, these teams come together to discuss technical problems and spread their mutual dedication for STEM, which surpasses the bounds of their schools.
When the team labors into the evening, they take “roughly an hour break for dinner,” said Reid. However, their day is far from over. Many continue to work, even after Mr. Ko has gone home. “Whoever stays, stays, and whoever leaves, leaves.”
The latest that Reid’s ever left the workshop? “2 a.m.”
Every day goes like this, until the very end of ‘build season,’ a grueling six week period from January 5 until the middle of February. Once build season ends, the team “bags and tags” the completed robot, placing it in a plastic bag and sealing the bag—bound only by the Rebels’ forsworn honor system. No further adjustments can be made until the actual competitions, which begin in March.
On the bus rides home from competitions, the team belts out favorite hits like ‘Sweet Caroline,’ ‘Rocket Man,’ ‘Mr. Blue Sky,’ and ‘Country Roads, Take Me Home.’ The songs might be sung horribly out of tune, but they’re sung in unison and with the enthusiasm of champions after a hard-fought victory.
Former team member John Mannooparambil, a freshman at the University of Michigan, looks back on his time on the team fondly. “I probably won’t remember anything about the robot itself, but the things that I took away are the interactions I’ve made…the people I’ve met, the late nights I’ve spent with them.”
To Reid, the Robotics family represents much more than just the trophies, awards, and medals that they’ve won.
“It’s someplace I can go every day and know that I’ll be able to hang out with people like me, learn so much from them, and pass on my knowledge,” Reid said, becoming visibly emotional. A place where he can be himself.
Reid has high hopes for what’s in store. With a faint shimmer of hope, he comments on last year’s freshmen, who will one day fill his shoes: “Those freshmen are by far the most dedicated freshmen we’ve ever had, over like 20 or more, who are going to be the future of the team.”
The team’s sudden growth can be attributed to Reid himself, who worked closely with Motch to figure out some way to increase participation after many seniors from two years prior graduated and were no longer on the team.
Their solution? Pair each incoming freshman with a more experienced team member. Reid himself took several newcomers under his wing. The newcomers were, according to Reid, “able to come to me [Reid] any time about any questions they had, and [which] definitely brought the freshmen closer to the team.” But the role has molded the mentors as well—forcing Reid to leave his comfort zone and “allowing me [Reid] to step out of my shell and become a leader.”
“It’s experience you can’t get anywhere else.”
After two years of being a part of the Rebel Robotics team, Reid still doesn’t know exactly what he wants to pursue after his high school career. He knows it’ll be something related to science or engineering, though.
Yet one thing is for certain—he’ll never leave this element of his life behind. In the perhaps not-so-far-off future, Reid plans to “volunteer at FIRST events, and maybe even mentor the future team in the way that Motch and Corrigan do.”
Now that’s commitment.