It All Started With a Soda Can
Jeffrey Le, a freshman member of the VEX 2496J team, has proven himself as an invaluable addition to their team
November 9, 2019
It was an elementary science project, one where students were only supposed to draw out a design for a robot. But for whatever reason, one student felt compelled to take it one step further. Rather than just sketching out a robot, he made one. It was just an empty soda can, but he gave it life. Through a battery and a few wires, the soda can dashed across the room.
The teacher, Mrs. Allison Lindauer, was blown away at his unwavering dedication for robotics, especially for a child in fourth grade. So it was a no-brainer to nominate him for the Tustin Public Schools Foundation’s Summer Academy’s introduction to VEX IQ Robotics.
And that was where it all began.
In these four weeks, Jeffrey Le had the chance to develop his interest in robotics into a full-fledged passion. He found himself in a world where he was able to give life to something seemingly dead. With a few pieces of scrap metal, he crafted a machine capable of stacking colorful cubes on top of one another to create a “highrise.”
The challenges that came with the program captivated him and urged him to stay and pursue this passion of his. “I had an interest in engineering at a young age and I felt that robotics was something I was interested in and something that I could carry into my future,” explains Le.
From fifth grade until now, Le has been an avid participant in the VEX Robotics program. In middle school, he was a part of the Robohawks 8838B team and competed at the World level for two years.
When Beckman’s robotics applications rolled around, Le didn’t even question it. He spent hours painstakingly crafting the perfect responses to come off as an ideal applicant. There were only a few freshman spots available, and it was incredibly competitive.
After the long period of stress and worry, Le received the delightful news that he made the program. He was added to team 2496J and was ecstatic to be able to continue his robotics career throughout high school.
Practices started that summer, and Le dedicated countless hours to prepare for the upcoming competitive season. Despite being one of the only freshmen on the team, he was entrusted to be the team’s driver. This role is crucial, as this person is responsible for controlling and maneuvering the robot during competitions. Ultimately, the driver is the person scoring points for the team during competitions. Le knew that this would entail a lot of practice and dedication since time and speed mean everything in these competitions.
“I tend to stay every day after school in order to get most of my drive practice in. Speed comes naturally [with these practices]. So by the time the competition comes around, I should feel comfortable with the robot and able to do everything in a timely fashion,” explains Le.
In the midst of all of this, Le has had to learn how to adjust to a new high school and robotics program. Despite his previous experience, the high school division has a different set of expectations. Rather than focusing on winning, they are driven by improving. Rather than only caring about results, they are also dedicated to strengthening themselves and building their team.
However, Le’s transition has almost been almost seamless. “Although he’s new to Beckman Robotics, he’s a very fast learner and has definitely used his middle school experiences [and] skills to his advantage. I’m truly grateful to have been on a team this year with such a talented individual like him,” states junior VanAnh Nguyen.
Le’s unwavering dedication to robotics is obvious. He stays after school every day to get as much practice in as possible. Sometimes, these practices can go as late as 8 p.m. In addition to all those hours, he comes to Beckman on Saturdays to practice with his team from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each week.
All of these long hours have definitely paid off – he currently ranks #1 in California for robot driving skills. This award is no easy feat, and Le and the rest of his team are incredibly proud of him and his achievements.
“I am thoroughly impressed with Jeffrey’s performance and contributions to the team. Despite being the youngest member and new to high school in general, he has quickly proven to be a crucial part of our team dynamic and performance,” junior Bradley Okajima states.
Although Le is satisfied with this recognition, he knows that there is always more room for improvement. As the competitive season continues, Le hopes to improve upon his skills and maintain this impressive reputation that he established. He is looking forward to participating in upcoming regional competitions and later competing at the state level on March 7, 2020.