BY BRIAN RZEPPA
For any program that is in its infancy, the goal each year is simply to improve upon the previous season’s results and eventually work into being a consistent competitor.
That is no different for the Trenton Robotics team, formally known as the Trenton Torque-Nados. While many programs value incremental improvement, the robotics program has jumped right into the fold as one of the top teams in the state.
Started four years ago by 1987 Trenton graduate Ed Neubecker, an engineer by trade, the program was formed after he had planned on mentoring Woodhaven High School’s team.
“When we started there were around 250 FIRST Robotics in the state and around 1,500-2,000 worldwide. I was going to help mentor a team in Woodhaven and when I met with their coach, he informed me that there was grant money available for new teams and from there the program was created,” Neubecker said.
With the help of grants from FIRST Robotics and the State of Michigan, the program was able to get off the ground. Following that first year however, it has been up to the team and the coaching staff to help remain viable.
“We’ve actually grown our funding since our first year. The grants that we received in our rookie year were maxed out and have decreased since, so we’ve relied on corporate sponsors and other resources like bottle drives and car washes.”
In addition to growing in terms of financial support, participation numbers have been on the rise while more traditional athletic programs have occasionally struggled to find their footing.
“Our participation numbers continue to go up each year. In our first year we started with 15 students and we’re all the way to 40 students for this coming season.”
One of the guiding factors behind this surge in participation has to be attributed to the overall success of the team. Even in their first year they managed to win an award at each competition and they have grown since then.
“The first two years we won an award at every competition that we went to. The third year we won the Chairman’s Award, which is the most prestigious award at a single event and qualifies you to compete for a state championship.”
A third-year program qualifying for a state championship is promising, but their success goes far beyond any singular event. The students that have participated in the program to this point have received life-changing benefits.
“The scholarship opportunities that members of our team have received since our first year is probably around a quarter million dollars. We have students going to colleges and receiving FIRST Robotics scholarships that they may not have known existed.”
The team has also managed to serve as a practicing ground for valuable life skills that the participants will be able to put to use in their daily lives as they enter adulthood, too.
“In this program kids learn how to present themselves, they speak about their ideas, they hear critique about their ideas and it’s done in a fashion that teaches kids that it’s okay to not always get things right,” Neubecker said. “The experience that they’re getting are very valuable skills for when they move on and are looking for internships. From my experience, employers will pick an applicant that has experience with FIRST Robotics over someone who doesn’t almost every time.”
In three short years, the Trenton Robotics program has managed to create a number of opportunities for each of the members of their team. As they enter their fourth season, the World Championships in St. Louis, Missouri seem to be not only attainable, but a reasonable expectation.
To follow the Trenton Robotics program and receive updates on their progress throughout the season, visit FRC5090.com and subscribe to their newsletter.