Steven Ettinger channels his abstract thoughts through robotics


24 hours.

In the midst of the bustling of everyday life—a delicate balance between school work and managing a personal sphere—sophomore Steven Ettinger devotes 24 hours of his week, at minimum, to the school’s robotics team.

Maintaining this balance while also accommodating time for his team can be a challenge, Steven admits, but it is a challenge he has continued and found enjoyment in for the last two years.

“A lot of the [challenge] is the time commitment,” Steven said, “because, during build season, I was there 24-30 hours a week, so it was a lot of my time. But I think it’s a lot of fun. I like talking about ideas and coming up with abstract thoughts.”

His commitment to the school’s team, the Comets (Creating Outstanding Minds, Embracing Technology and Science), began after a few seniors talked to the middle school students about joining the team when Steven was in eighth grade. Out of curiosity and an interest in the topic, Steven was recruited for the group, and he quickly appreciated the community and was intrigued by what robotics had to offer: a haven for his creative ideas.

“My first impression was that I really enjoyed it,” Steven said. “I think it’s fun because you get to make something that hasn’t been made before, and it’s your own ideas. And you have a lot of input on what happens.”

Although a bulk of his week is typically inhabited by robotics, this isn’t true year-round and only is the case starting in January, which is when the building season begins. During this time, Steven and a group of his teammates design, build, and program a robot that can follow a series of instructions in a game.

After several weeks of operating behind closed quarters, Steven and his teammates then take the robot out for a series of competitions, which include regional, state, and worldwide events. In these competitions, Steven’s particular job is the driver, where he controls the robot’s movements.

Out of all of the competitions Steven has attended the last two years, the World Finals competition has been his favorite one, which was held in Detroit this year.

“At [the World Finals], I got to meet people from Israel and Japan and around the world,” Steven said. “It’s very interesting because most of the people there speak English, but some of them don’t speak it as well. So you get to somewhat have a taste of their language and their culture, and you get to talk to them about what life’s like where they live.”

Talking to both his fellow teammates and unfamiliar players is something that constitutes as a lively, enjoyable time for Steven; however, not all moments consist of light and amusement during competitions.

With an arena of people and a finite amount of time between each match, an obstruction, such as a malfunction of the robot, can quickly defuse any comfort and instill a sense of tension. Steven has learned that there might now always be an immediate panacea for these situations, but he finds team communication and staying calm imperative during these moments.

“Depending on the task you’re doing, it may require multiple people to be working together seamlessly,” Steven said, “so a lot of [the challenge] is just finding ways to calm yourself when you’re getting stressed. I’d say that’s one of the more challenging parts of it, working as a team. Sometimes things can go wrong, and you can’t fix them. You just have to accept that you have to keep on going through it.”

Working as a team to solve these moments of tension and working as a team, in general, has been a major incentive that has pushed Steven to return each year. This community-driven aspect creates a friendly environment where Steven can apply his communication strategies and teamwork efforts.

The community aspect of robotics, along with its role as a creative outlet, ultimately is one of Steven’s true sources of enjoyment throughout the year.

“I think I’m really passionate about [robotics] because it really lets my ideas flow,” Steven said. “It allows my more abstract thoughts to come out, and I enjoy making things. So it’s a channel for it to come out. It’s also really fun and really community-driven, and I would definitely recommend joining the robotics team if you have any interest in technology or design.”