Most high school students have several options of clubs and competitive teams to join that can supplement their education, but few combine technical skills, leadership qualities and competitiveness quite like the Texas Torque robotics program in The Woodlands.
"Take the best of what you get out of varsity sports and combine that with the best stuff you get out of team building with being in clubs, and then the knowledge you get out of being in a classroom," said Texas Torque's head mentor Scott Rippetoe. "It's like all of that rolled into one huge package."
Texas Torque was founded in 2004, Rippetoe said, when The Woodlands High School and Anadarko Petroleum combined efforts to form a robotics team for area high schoolers. The program has come a long way since then, winning the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Robotics World Championship on April 24-27 in St. Louis, Mo., out of more than 400 teams.
The club enlists students from College Park, The Woodlands and Oak Ridge high schools, as well as the Academy of Science and Technology. A physics teacher at the Academy for 22 years, Rippetoe began coaching with Texas Torque in 2007 because of his son's involvement, and became head mentor in 2008.
The team practices and plans year round, but Rippetoe said the competitive season begins the first weekend in January when all 2,500 competing teams around the world receive a problem that a robot they construct must solve. Teams then have six weeks to construct their robots before regional matches begin. Rippetoe said his team worked every day after school for hours, including eight-to-10-hour days on Saturdays every week leading up to the championship.
"It's very strategy driven, and the design of the robot reflects the strategy, not the other way around," senior Shyan Raghavan said.
The team not only learns technical skills and problem solving, but also management skills, Rippetoe said. Students work with management software and learn how to budget as they order materials.
Raghavan and junior Varshu Kishore both said they plan to pursue engineering at the collegiate level. Having finished his fourth year in the program, Raghavan said winning the championship as a senior was special. He will attend Carnegie Melon University in the fall.
"I want to [pursue engineering] basically because of this [program]," he said. "Because I enjoyed it so much, it's what makes me want to come back everyday."
Rippetoe encouraged anyone with an interest in the program to sign up, and said even incoming freshmen without knowledge of robotics are welcome, as training is provided in the fall and summer. For more information on Texas Torque, go to www.texastorque.org.