Aggie-led team wins world championship

Photo of Rippetoe robotics team

 

If you thought setting a Guinness World Record for building a 44-foot-tall playable guitar was impressive, try leading a high school robotics team to victory against 10,000 competitors at the FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology— World Championship. 

Scott Rippetoe ’82 successfully led the Texas Torque robotics team to their first World Championship, competing against 400 teams from across the world. The three-day championship event took place at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo., with a rowdy crowd of 25,000. This year’s robot challenge consisted of climbing a pyramid and throwing as many Frisbee disks into a goal as possible, within a 2-minute-and-15- second match. 

The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams to solve a common problem in a six-week time frame using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in competitions. Rippetoe has coached and mentored Texas Torque, composed of students from Conroe, The Woodlands and other North Houston-area schools, to several state and regional championships, but this was the team’s first world title.

“There are some great teams in FIRST Robotics that have never won the World Championship,” Rippetoe said.

Texas Torque lost in the semifinals of their third competition of the season. “Lots of tears were shed,” Rippetoe said. But one of the team’s sponsors our-sponsors contributed $2,500, Texas Torque the opportunity to compete in the next competition. From that point on, the team went undefeated, culminating in the world title in May.

Rippetoe — or Mr. Rip, according to his students—has taught physics and advanced mathematics at four different high schools in the Houston area. His enthusiasm and leadership has made a lasting impression on his students and community.  

“Mr. Rippetoe has taught me more than just physics and engineering excellence,” said high school junior Chase Noren. “He’s motivated me to dedicate my life to engineering the future.”

In 2012, Rippetoe received the Woodie Flowers Award for his dedication to student mentorship and his contributions to Texas Torque. In a nomination letter, a colleague said Rippetoe is “passionate about everything, and passes that passion on to everyone around him.

“To be included in the company of those who received this award is a great thing,” Rippetoe said. “The students play a major role in competitions and learning experience; I just do what I do the best way I can.”

Rippetoe graduated from Texas A&M in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, then again in 1990 with a master’s degree in educational curriculum and instruction. He said he developed a sense of self-sufficiency and camaraderie while experiencing on-campus life in Walton Hall, one of Texas A&M’s oldest remaining dorms.

“The dorms didn’t have air conditioning units back then, so we’d like to think we were a bit tougher than most,” he said.

After studying aerospace engineering for most of his collegiate career, Rippetoe had no intention of teaching. It wasn’t until his senior year that he realized his passion for teaching physics and physical science. After visits with Robert Chilton, one of his most influential professors, and his adviser, Dr. Robert Clark, he realized that it was possible to teach his love of physics without abandoning the field of engineering. 

Today Rippetoe is a 23-year supporter of The Association of Former Students’ Annual Fund and also a proud Aggie parent: his son, Michael Rippetoe ’13, has followed in his father’s footsteps to pursue an engineering degree at Texas A&M. Recently, Michael told his father that he now wants to teach physics and physical science. Rippetoe said he jokingly replied, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

Michael has also had the experience of working with his father on Texas Torque. He was a member of the FIRST robotics team his father coached in 2008 and 2009.

Today, Scott Rippetoe has 30 years of experience teaching advanced physics, mathematics and electronics, including the past 22 at The Academy of Science and Technology in Conroe. After winning the robotics world championship and earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for building the world’s largest playable guitar, Rippetoe is planning to retire at the end of this year to focus on his dream job: coaching robotics.

“Deciding to retire from classroom teaching was difficult, but I am so excited about next year and bringing what I enjoy about robotics to students and teachers throughout our school district,” Rippetoe said.