Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Gary Isreal, 2TrainRobotics Coach, Receives State Farm Pitch-In Award

2TrainRobotics Coach Receives State Farm Pitch-In Award

For the past 12 years, the NY Yankees have honored the Morris High School FIRST Robotics team at Yankee Stadium during a pre-game ceremony. This year was a bit different. This year the Yankees informed Morris HS coach/coordinator Gary Israel he would receive the State Farm Pitch-In Award honor, “for [his] support/commitment to make a difference in the lives of local youth.”
After a career in retail and business, Mr. Israel began teaching virtual business classes at Morris. In 1999, Morris High School was offered a grant by FIRST for a robotics team. Despite initial apprehension about not having a science background, he was assured that his leadership and marketing skills qualified him to be the coach, “they said you’ll be able to get engineering help.”
And so things were put into action. Promoting a team was very important to Mr. Israel. He noticed that Morris HS had very few teams so the idea of a robotics team appealed to him. Gary encouraged the students to promote their team. He said, “we were able to use phones in our office to reach out to potential sponsors”. Reuben A. Bridges, an original student and mentor with the team, “joined FIRST as a way to promote FIRST, so it worked out both ways from a class to the team”. He said how Gary, “let us express our ideas to work as a team.”
Mr. Israel recalled that in their first year there was pressure for the team to join up
2TrainRobotics at Maker Pavilion
2TrainRobotics at Maker Pavilion
with another school. He asserted, “I think it was important to stay independent. Morris is in one of the poorest districts in the US.  These kids have beaten a lot of obstacles and they have earned their pride.”
The team was able to “get the engineering” and secure a partnership with Columbia University, what he refers to as “the icing on the cake” for educating students. It was there he recruited fellow mentor, Bob Stark from Columbia, to help with the technical side of the team. Bob started working with him that first year, commenting, “having the Columbia students mentor Morris’ students has been a great asset.”
As a result, the Morris students travel over an hour each way to Columbia’s lab on 116th & Broadway.  The FRC Team 395 dubbed the name “2 TrainRobotics” in honor of their commute to the campus.  Mr. Israel explained how this presents a challenge, but also an important lesson. “It’s a big challenge because it’s an additional effort for them to travel.”
There are concerns about safety or just getting over being out of the Bronx. Mr. Bridges points out “a lot of the students who joined the team never left the Bronx. That’s pretty much what they know.”  He defined the importance of travelling as “exposing the students to what’s out there and exposing the world to the school–that we have students with just as much knowledge and spirit.”
2Train Robotics being honored at Yankee Stadium
And the students have done just that. Their first year they journeyed to NJ, as NYC FIRST did not host competitions then.  As the team grew in experience, they have travelled to Baltimore, Washington DC, Texas, Georgia, and Florida with an impressive record.  Some of the teams accolades include the Chairman’s Award (2004), General Motors Industrial Design Award” (2008), Creativity Award sponsored by Xerox (2011), the Woody Flowers Award (2011) and several regional winner awards.  A simple Google search results in articlesinterviews on YouTube, and even references in books (Classroom Robotics and The New Cool) about this remarkable team and mentors.
One award that particularly means very much is the pre-game honor at Yankee stadium,  which is one of the team’s sponsors. This has transformed into an annual tradition. Mr. Israel says, “going out on the field is more important, that kind of recognition instills pride in these kids”. Mr. Stark observes that “these kids, getting to experience the idea that a big organization like the Yankees is paying attention to their achievements, is a big moment. When you look behind your shoulder you see the 2Train team on the screen and it’s like ‘Wow!’”
As to being recognized, Mr. Israel is incredibly humbled and his preference for being with his team is clearly evident. He attributes much of the team’s success to his students and fellow mentors.  “I’ve gotten so much from being part of FIRST and being with the students. That is enough recognition for me.”
-Vinessa DiCarlo, FIRST Volunteer

No comments: