August 14, 2020

Team Neutrino: #morethanrobots

Team Neutrino

Team Neutrino’s social media accounts often use the hashtag #omgrobots. It’s a fun tag to posts that communicates the light-heartedness of the organization while also serving as a reminder that these students BUILD ROBOTS! In its simplest form, Team Neutrino is organized to compete in robotics competitions. But it would be a mischaracterization and a disservice to leave it at that. Although robotics is the face of the organization, it is only a fraction of the work they do. The reality is that student members, along with their mentors and community partners, function like a well-rounded business. 

Team Neutrino is open to any student who has an interest in robotics or engineering, or who is just looking to be part of an amazing community of teenaged friends. Although most members are students at Ames High, it is not just an Ames High organization. Membership is open to other Story County schools as a member of Story County 4-H, with some members attending Gilbert and Ballard districts. Let’s be very clear, being a member is a personal commitment. For many students, this is their sport, their hobby, and the thing that consumes much of their time. 

Originally founded in 2011, Team Neutrino spent their first year at Ames High School. Now, every day after school, student members migrate to the campus of Iowa State University and spend hours in a lab at Sukup Hall. They have access to state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and expertise that is second-to-none. 

Team Neutrino’s mission is to “develop ourselves as leaders, engineers, and community partners, working every day to achieve more with our robots, in our community, and from ourselves than we did the day before.” Under their official name of FIRST Robotics Team #3928, the team is composed of 35 full team members and 7 associates. The associate role was recently added as a way to get more students involved who were interested, but could not allocate the time for the program. Many full members self-commit 30 or more hours to Team Neutrino during their “build season” on a weekly basis. 

Most business owners recognize that the face of the business is only a fraction of the work involved. For Team Neutrino, that work is the engineering and building of the robot. Of course, that is the primary focus of the organization, but robots are not cheap to build and the team needs funding to not only build the robots but to compete in the competitions with entry fees of $5,000. In order to generate that kind of cash, Team Neutrino seeks support from community sponsors with the top sponsor range in the $5,000 + range. Most companies do not shell out that level of support on a whim so Team Neutrino shares with them their business plan. 

Business Plan

In their business plan, Team Neutrino provides an overview of the organization and how they engage with the community. It also includes an updated financial statement and a SWOT Analysis of their organization, outlining strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

On page 4 of their business plan, Team Neutrino graphically outlines their team organization. At the top, the organization splits in two with separate co-captains: one who oversees the technical components of the organization, while the other oversees the non-technical side of the group. This year, Ames High graduating senior Sayre Satterwhite, is in charge of the technical side with Ames High rising junior Claudia Murphy supervising the non-technical part. Together, they also manage the leadership core of the team where major subteam leaders meet with mentors to make important decisions. 

The technical side of Team Neutrino focuses on the building of the robot and competition. Their success falls, in part, on the leadership of Satterwhite. “I’ve always been interested in engineering. When I saw the robotics team years ago, I loved it and always wanted to be more involved.” Like most CEOs, the success of the team is based on the personnel decisions that he makes. The Design subteam is the largest in the organization and they are tasked with creating the actual robot. Groups under that are specifically tasked with focusing on the Movement (building the drive system), Scoring (fine-tuning the shooter and other scoring components), Climber (for the end game climb), and the Intake (picking up field elements). The Controls team wires the robot and programs the driving procedures, including an autonomous mode, while the Scouting subteam manages the game strategy. Each subteam is organized to specialize in a particular area in order to build the robot and win competitions. The other, non-technical side, is equally as important as they are continually reaching out to the community to sustain and build new partner relationships.

Team Neutrino understands the importance of marketing with Ames High sophomore Claudia Murphy organizing the non-technical side of the organization. The Graphics subteam places an emphasis on taking photos and videos and manages the team’s marketing efforts, which includes social media. The group is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, with their business plan highlighting some of the stats. Their activity and reach through social media helps with fundraising efforts, which is yet another subteam. The Awards subteam manages submissions and presentations.

Earlier this year, Team Neutrino won the 2020 Greater Kansas City Regional competition and was scheduled to compete in the World Championships in Detroit before the event was canceled due to the coronavirus. Team Neutrino is really good at building robots and winning robot competitions, but it is not their sole focus. They also won the safety and quality awards, along with one of the most prestigious awards in Kansas City, the “Engineering Inspiration” award that focuses on increasing appreciation of STEM in the community. They have won that award consecutively for four years. 

Community outreach is part of the mission of Team Neutrino. It is very common to see members of the team volunteering their time during summer school or putting on presentations to younger students. They are also very active in the FIRST Lego League, a feeder program to the robotics team. In fact, most of the members got their start programming legos in late elementary and middle school. Today, they serve a “big brother / sister” role to many teams. 

The sustainability of the group is always on their mind. As team members progress through high school and take on more leadership roles, finding their replacements is essential to the success of the team. With 74% of the members as underclassmen, many members will graduate in close proximity to each other. But just because this has been identified as a “threat” on their SWOT Analysis, does not mean that it cannot be solved. The team takes a science and engineering approach by identifying the problem and then proposing solutions. This not only applies to membership but their access to parts or any of the other problems they may encounter while assembling a robot with thousands of pieces. 

While taking a tour of their lab, it would be reasonable to hear students talk about gear ratios, a plastic injector mold, or any number of other aspects of building a robot. But you would also see students managing deadlines, conducting team meetings, and crunching numbers to meet their budget. They could be creating graphics or videos, organizing an event, or mentoring other students. For these reasons, Team Neutrino is truly an amazing organization and unlike any other in Story County.