In 2007, we almost killed him. Our coach, Rafael Colón, was helping us in the lab when he was cut. His wound eventually got infected, landing him in the hospital deathly ill for over a month. Despite his near death experience, he called us every day from the hospital to see how the team was doing. As soon as he was discharged from the hospital, he hailed a cab and instead of going home, went directly to the lab.
Recently, Rafael caught our bot that was falling off a truck and tore his rotator cuff. Despite this, he worked around his physical therapy schedule to ensure that he was not holding us back with his recovery.
Since 2000, Rafael’s presence on the team has been unshakable. Year after year, he has worked beyond his paid hours to give us as much time as we need, setting aside personal commitments. In 2003, a blizzard hit the area, shutting down most of NYC. Immediately, Rafael let all the parents, students, and mentors know that he was heading to school to open up the lab so they could continue working on the bot. In 2011, his dedication to robotics and StuyPulse was recognized by NY1 News, a local news channel, featuring him as New Yorker of the Week.
Rafael’s mantra is “You come in with ten fingers, you leave with ten fingers.” Before build season, he gives a safety lesson and a safety exam. He also teaches new members how to use the machinery and tools, multiple times if he has to. He keeps us organized with pre-meetings and dinner meetings, requiring all divisions to make goals for each day.
Instead of asking a mentor to do a job for us, Rafael believes that we should learn from their guidance and our own experiences. He makes sure that all the mentors are aware that their job is to give us tips until we are able to solve a problem ourselves instead of doing it for us.
It’s not enough to make it past quarterfinals at World Championships; Mr. Colόn expects us to go above and beyond his expectations. He tests our limits and pushes us past them. In his own words, “At the end of your four years, you're either gonna want to run me over with a bus or love me and either is fine by me.” Chris, a senior member of StuyPulse, has said, “Honestly, I don't think we'd be at all where we are if it wasn't for him. His pushing got us to Einstein.”
Aside from being our coach, Rafael works as a teacher at Stuyvesant, teaching computer technology, woodworking, and robotics. Before him, there was no such thing as a robotics course at Stuyvesant High School. When the school administration wanted to downsize the tech department, his passion for robotics and his drive for introducing more kids to the STEM field prevailed as he fought and was able to create two robotics classes and several technology classes for the juniors and seniors.
Rafael, or Mr. Colón as we call him, has become a cornerstone of our team. He works to keep StuyPulse a close-knit group, always telling us that, “It’s more than just being a team. It’s being a family.”