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Local teens blasting off in rocket and robotics competitions
by Matt Naber
Apr 15, 2013 | 1376 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Three Rivers High School sophomore Vanessa Stewart gets into the details with the team's robot on Thursday afternoon.
Three Rivers High School sophomore Vanessa Stewart gets into the details with the team's robot on Thursday afternoon.
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Sophomore Nidhi Rathod takes down the data as she and her teammates look over their robot.
Sophomore Nidhi Rathod takes down the data as she and her teammates look over their robot.
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Three Rivers High School sophomore Lonnie Reyes of the Cyberdawgs robotics team tinkers with the team's robot on Thursday afternoon.
Three Rivers High School sophomore Lonnie Reyes of the Cyberdawgs robotics team tinkers with the team's robot on Thursday afternoon.
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Travis Smith of the Three Rivers High School rocket team throws their rocket off the top of the football stadium while teammates Gage Saenz and Luis Rojas time the throw.
Travis Smith of the Three Rivers High School rocket team throws their rocket off the top of the football stadium while teammates Gage Saenz and Luis Rojas time the throw.
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Three Rivers High School rocket team members Luis Rojas, Travis Smith, and Gage Saenz take apart their rocket after throwing it off the school's football stadium to test its re-entry abilities.
Three Rivers High School rocket team members Luis Rojas, Travis Smith, and Gage Saenz take apart their rocket after throwing it off the school's football stadium to test its re-entry abilities.
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Three Rivers High School junior Travis Smith holds up the egg that survived the rocket team's test drop from the TRHS football stadium on Thursday afternoon.
Three Rivers High School junior Travis Smith holds up the egg that survived the rocket team's test drop from the TRHS football stadium on Thursday afternoon.
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Three Rivers High School rocket teammates Luis Riojas, Gage Saenz, and Travis Smith inspect their rocket with TRHS chemistry and physics teacher Judy Hudek at the TRHS football field on Thursday afternoon.
Three Rivers High School rocket teammates Luis Riojas, Gage Saenz, and Travis Smith inspect their rocket with TRHS chemistry and physics teacher Judy Hudek at the TRHS football field on Thursday afternoon.
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Two teams of Three Rivers High School students are gathering national attention in their first season of competitive robotics and rocketry.

Senior Luis Riojas and juniors Travis Smith and Gage Saenz qualified for the national finals in the Team America Rocketry Challenge in Virginia next month. The boys will be up against the top 100 teams in the nation with $60,000 in scholarships on the line.

Sophomores Nidhi Rathod, Vanessa Stewart and Lonnie Reyes will be up for $1,000 scholarships as the TRHS Cyber Dawgs robotics team in the regional engineering design fair of the South Texas Engineering Alliance in Kingsville on May 11.

“When we started, we didn’t think we would make it to regionals,” Rathod said. “The other teams were so into it because they had been doing it for more years, and this was our first year; but now that we know what it is like, we will know what to do next year.”

TRHS chemistry and physics teacher Judy Hudek started and coached the teams through the season. Hudek said she has produced six engineers from similar competitions throughout her teaching career.

“It is going to go on our resume, I think all three of us want to be engineers,” Saenz said. “When we got started it took weeks to build, but now we can do it in three days.”

Hudek said the students have developed such an interest in engineering that they’ve petitioned for an engineering class to be formed.

For the rocket team, the competitions aren’t just a matter of successfully launching and landing. The teams have to meet specific qualifications such as reaching 750 feet and landing within 48 to 50 seconds while weighing less than 650 grams without breaking an egg contained inside.

“Our first flights were failures, and we didn’t think we had a shot at nationals,” Riojas said.

But, practice made perfect for the rocket team as the season progressed. The team flew about 40 times with local South Texas Aerospace Club members Bill and May Yates who certified their flights.

“I think for a 1A school like Three Rivers, it is a huge accomplishment...I can’t describe how impressed I am with these kids; they are hard workers and do what I ask,” Hudek said. “It is a great competition and something different to put on college resumes and this sets them apart.”

Just like the rocket competition, the robotics team faces more than just constructing their models and making them work.

“It’s not just building a robot; it’s marketing it and programming it and engineering,” Stewart said.

The robotics team won awards for their ability to present their robot to a panel of judges and another for their meticulous record-keeping and blueprints.

“We want to get more people involved so we could have more of an attention grabber,” Reyes said.

All of the equipment to make this happen comes at a cost. For the rocket team, each flight costs about $25 since the engines are only good for one flight.

Hudek said the team needs to fly about 40 to 60 more times before nationals in order to gain a more consistent launch, and the team will include all sponsor’s logos on their uniforms.

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