Meet Our Mentors

The people listed below are Team 2404's mentors.

We are incredibly grateful for their mentorship.

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John Smith

Lead Mentor

John Smith is the director and founder of NEY (Neighbors Empowering Youth). He is also one of the main mentors of Team 2404. He is very much a father figure to the team members.

 

John has helped many youths with learning how to be a better dedicated person.

 

He has also helped us understand what being part of a FIRST team feels like. He makes it fun and worthwhile for the students to stay on the team. But even with all the fun, we learn at the same time how to work together with one another. He has devoted a great deal of time and a lot of money to our team.

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Chris Sulzbach chris@team2404.org
Joined in 2015

Lead Outreach Mentor

Chris Sulzbach is our outreach mentor he helps us run our social media pages, website, and community outreach and works with our graphic design and marketing students.

Chris is always promoting our team within the local community. He was instrumental in having the local school district staff and local community leaders tour our robotics space on our kick-off day in 2019. He also helps us design most of our flyers and promotional materials. During the pandemic, he helped us transition to virtual Zoom meetings. More recently, in Spring 2022, he helped transition back to in-person and recruit mentors from Caltech and JPL.  He is an alumnus of our team, having been on from 2015-2017. He is also a member of the John Muir High school engineering and environmental science academy advisory council. His involvement in it has helped to bring in more muir Students. 

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Luis Barragan
Joined in 2013

Lead Programing/3D Printing/CAD/  Mentor

BIO coming soon

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Sawyer Brooks
JPL NASA

Joined in 2022

Robotics Engineering Mentor

Sawyer Brooks is a Robotics Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and he is a Group Leader for Robot Operations and Testing. He earned a Master’s degree in Robotics from the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 and then immediately joined JPL to pursue space robotics.

From 2015 - 2022, Sawyer worked on developing, testing, and operating Perseverance’s Sample Caching Subsystem, which samples rocks on Mars and stores them for future return to Earth. As the Docking Systems Engineer, Sawyer developed and tested algorithms, software, and hardware which the large Robotic Arm uses to drop off rock samples to the Caching Assembly inside the rover. After Perseverance launched in 2020, Sawyer was an Uplink Deputy responsible for developing tools and procedures to safely and successfully operate the sampling system on the surface of Mars. He continued to work on sampling operations through initial commissioning and checkouts, the collection of the first 8 samples, and multiple complex anomalies.

Sawyer is currently the V&V Lead for CADRE, a project developing small lunar rovers which will cooperatively and autonomously explore Earth’s moon. The technology developed for CADRE will pave the way for future space missions to use more autonomy and to include multi-robot systems. Sawyer’s V&V team is responsible for integrating and testing all of the software and hardware across the project, proving that it will work on the moon and paving the way for lunar operations.

Sawyer is also passionate about STEM education. His previous experience includes designing coursework and projects for undergraduate engineering classes at the University of Pennsylvania, developing software for an educational software company, and teaching programming to young students in Philadelphia. In addition to being a mentor for FRC Team 2404, he is a member of the Tinkering School's Mars Advisory Council, advising a program to bring hands-on experience with Mars rover operations into classrooms around the nation.

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Noel Csomay-Shanklin
Caltech
Joined in 2022

Robotics Engineering Mentor

Control and Dynamical Systems Graduate Student Researcher at Caltech. I am captivated by the unique way in which robotics combines mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science concepts to a powerful and unprecedented effect, and I am enthralled by the idea of pushing robotic capabilities to the brink of what is possible.

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Emily Fourney
Caltech
Joined in 2022

Engineering Mentor

Control and Dynamical Systems - Computing and Mathematical Sciences Ph.D. Student Caltech.

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Sergio Esteban
Caltech
Joined in 2022

Engineering Mentor

I am a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology studying robotics, controls and dynamics. My engineering passion is robotics. Through my studies and beyond, I intend to advance the field of robot design, controls, and autonomy. My favorite research topics are currently in control theory and robot mechanical design, however, I am always looking out for something new to learn!

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Kristo Kriechbaum
NASA-JPL
Joined in 2022

Engineering Mentor

I have worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) since I finished graduate school. It is the only "real job" I have had. I have worked primarily on surface sampling systems, first for the Curiosity Rover sampling subsystem, coordinating the development test activities for the drill and CHIMRA. On the Mars 2020 sampling system I have lead the experimental design and data analysis for the subsystem's development. In addition I've worked on various proposals for Venus landers, and am currently working on advanced development for a Europa Lander mission.

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Jake Lee
NASA-JPL
Joined in 2022

Programing Mentor

I am a data scientist at the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Machine Learning and Instrument Autonomy group.

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Tracy Van Houten
NASA-JPL
Joined in 2022

Engineering Mentor

Tracy Van Houten is a systems engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. She worked on the team that landed the Curiosity rover on Mars in August 2012 and is currently the Flight System Verification and Validation Lead for the Mars 2020 mission that will send the next Curiosity-like rover to Mars.

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Ralph Williams

A supporter of NEY's robotics program.

I am proud and grateful to support the N.E.Y. (Neighbors Empowering Youth) Team2404 FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) Program. For me too it is both an opportunity to learn and share. Over the past 9+ years I worked with NEY Founder Mr. John Smith as a NEY Board Member, Technology support and service contributor. Mr. Smith was instrumental in presenting an employment opportunity to me with (DHS/FEMA) where I have been working for the past 17+ years with Mr. Smith. I hold the position of IT/Telcom Manager, a wonderful Job, often traveling! With 25+ years in the Technology Industry. Serving as CEO of a technology company and a graduate of the Naval Technical Academy in Pensacola FL, with other specialized industry certifications. I'm well versed with Telecom, Computers, Networking, a budding programmer and joyful Geek. Lastly, I hold FCC radio (Ham) & Military radio operator Licenses. My greatest accomplishment is being a supporter of FIRST (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science and Technology); add also a humble example and supporter of our most capable Youth...My work is most often off-stage. Power-to-the-Students!  LlL <Life-long-Learner>