Dereck Sanchez: The SOLIDWORKS Prodigy

Dereck Sanchez, a rising junior in high school, has been working with his team, R4 Robotics, for all of seven years now; but the most impressive part is that he’s only seventeen years old. His team joins many BEST Robotics competitions every year, which last approximately six weeks long each. At the age of eleven, he started learning SOLIDWORKS so his team could brainstorm what they wanted the robot to look like before they would actually start creating it. Dereck is now one of the most experienced leaders on his team, leading them to nine state championships in New Mexico, as well as learning important presentational skills along the way. We decided to talk to Dereck and ask him about his experiences with both his robotics team and SOLIDWORKS, and how they have helped his rapid development in becoming a young man.

How did you get involved in SOLIDWORKS? How does all of this even start?

“So, where it starts is about fourteen years ago. My coach, her name is Shelly Gruening, and she had an oldest son. He was home-schooled, and was looking to get involved in some extracurricular activities. They didn’t find any robotics competitions that were suited to what they liked… so my coach was on the hunt and was looking for a robotics competition for a long time, until she stumbled upon a competition that we currently compete in which is called, BEST Robotics. BEST stands for boosting, engineering, science, and technology.”

“BEST Robotics has been around for I think about sixteen or seventeen years now. The competition has been going on for a long time. NASA has recognized the competition as one of the bigger robotics competitions in the world… so, when we started competing in this competition, it was just my coach, her son, and his two friends… From there, more friends and people started joining, [so] it grew from three members, to now we have about forty.”

“…A few years back, we started doing camps… to show people what it was about… [The camps] are only three days long. I was invited through a family friend to one of those camps six years ago or seven years ago when I was about ten years old, and I fell in love with it. I did the four-day camp, and loved every minute of it. [I] got involved in the program, then got involved with the team, and the competition gave us two free licenses to SOLIDWORKS per year, so we had the chance to use SOLIDWORKS for our robot during the competition.”

“…At that time, there was about one or two students on the team who could use SOLIDWORKS, and they weren’t good enough to the point where they could actually do SOLIDWORKS before we built the robot. We would build the robot, and then build it in SOLIDWORKS afterwards. Then, [due to the fact that] we are a homeschool team, we have to go out and look for sponsorships, and a lot of times we’ll ask companies if they don’t have money to donate, [since] we… have to get our own funding, sometimes people donate more than just money. Maybe it’s time, or helping, or even a resource like MCAD donated training classes to some of the students.”

“…I got to take the SOLIDWORKS Essentials training course for free, because MCAD donated it to us; so that’s really when my SOLIDWORKS journey had started. I had seen people use it, and so I was eleven… I took the class, and since then I have been using it on the team. Now we always start off the year by brainstorming the robot, and then building it in SOLIDWORKS before we even pick up any tools. We’ll have it almost completely built in SOLIDWORKS, because our team is advanced in SOLIDWORKS. It’s been a huge, huge tool since then.”

Dereck working on his craftsmanship

How long do you actually spend cadding the robot?

“[When we start our season], it’s called kick off, and then the first competition is our state competition. We are nine time state champions currently. [Once] we win that competition… then there’s… about four to six more weeks, until the regional competition. [As soon as we start the regional competition], I’d say the first week there’s a lot of a CAD happening… and then after that, there’s a lot of building. Then we kind of revisit the CAD drawing to see what changed while building, what we need to change, if anything is different. Then there’s definitely a period where not much CAD happens, and it’s a lot more building. Once the robots are done, we go back into CAD… put our robot in and make sure that they’re matching, both on the computer and in real life.”

“Then we can test things, like how strong arm is, if it has [enough] strength to be able to lift [certain things], if the motors have enough strength using the pulley system, because a lot of times, we use pulley systems to lift the arm. Anything like that, we kind of go back… into SOLIDWORKS. Then that’s when I will convert the SOLIDWORKS drawing into an animation, and we have to give an oral presentation. We have a website, and an engineering manual that we have to present as well, it’s not just the robot. We’ll also use the SOLIDWORKS CAD drawings for all of those.”

What are you using as an outlet to practice your presentational skills?

“My coach’s husband is a lawyer, and he has been training us on the public speaking… and we kind of get a lot of practice just doing all the camps, and different robotics events. Actually, that SOLIDWORKS meeting is a perfect example because, my coach was planning on being there but she wasn’t sure she could, so if something happened I kind of have to fill in. That’s one of the many skills that I’ve learned from robotics, that I can jump in and do just about whatever public speaking my coach needs me to do on the spot, which has been a good skill to have. [Also], because of the robotics team, we met with the Rotary Club.

“The Rotary Club has donated money to R4 Robotics a few times, and we actually started a youth rotary club called, Rotary Interact. It’s rotary for younger students, and I’m currently at the head of that as well. We have had several meetings where I’ve had to present in front of the region of Texas, and one in New Mexico. [This is where] all of the Rotarians in our region [take place], which is nerve-wracking; but because of robotics, I was able to do that.”

You’re hitting on so many different networks here. How do you advertise to them and then bring these people in?

“So, our competition is more than just robots. We are given the task to build a robot, but it’s presenting [the company more than the robot itself]. We actually refer to ourselves as a company when we compete. In that, we have to give a presentation, as I said, an engineering manual, a website, a civic presentation, a large exhibit booth, and, many, many other factors. But with all of those different things, comes more work; so the students really are the ones who are doing the networking. We actually have teams together that meet once a week during competition, and we [also] meet once a month outside of our competition. We will go out just to the community, go door-to-door with a sales pitch, a few students, a robot, and walk around [asking] for funding. This has led to a lot of great connections for some of our advertisement. We advertise our camps everywhere, through social media, flyers, banners, mouth-to-mouth, just whatever we can [do], and it’s great. It’s not like we’re having a hard time finding people, because the second someone hears about what we are doing… they immediately are drawn to it. [Then they] want to either help as much as they can, learn about it, or sign their [children] up, or something. So, it’s been great, because we’ve been able to make friends through SOLIDWORKS, just by doing exactly that.”

“Going, and giving a presentation, [makes people more] interested, and [because of that] we get to talk more to them. But, having the community around us has been great, because every year we can go out with these people, and say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this again, and are looking for your funding,’ and everybody’s happy to do it. This gives us more than one suggestion on who to talk to next, or what meeting, or what group to speak in front of. So, it’s been great, and everyone has been very supportive of helping us throughout the years.”

Dereck and his R4 Robotics team presenting their robot!

What are you motivated to accomplish in doing all of this at such a young age?

“Well, the whole goal in the end, it’s more than a robotics competition… it’s really training you for real life; and from everything we’ve heard, it is truly real life. Everything we do is something a company would do, or everything we are preparing for. Just about everyone we’ve ever met has told us that the entire time; so, the goal is to really seek out other students who are like me. I am very dyslexic and hated school actually. I never, ever enjoyed it, but when I found this robotics competition, it made learning fun… so that’s really been our goal, is just to seek out other students who are willing to join us.”

What do you have coming up for camps?

“So, right now we have one camp going on starting here in a few days, but [in total] we have four… camps every year. What we do is the students get the first day… to be with their team, and learn a little bit. [Then we] start building a robot that competes in the game field.”

“So this [year’s camp theme is], they’re at a space station and it broke. They need to fix it, but they also need to save the astronauts that had to use the escape pod, so they have to go collect the astronauts, and do fun different things. So, we give them a kit with different pieces of metal and wood, and various objects, and they have to use real power tools to cut it up and put it together. You can talk to the team and brainstorm ideas on how to put it together. They get two full days of building, and then the third day is a half day, and on the second half of the third day, we do the competition. There are three teams that will compete against each other, so it’s not like BattleBots where they’re fighting. They are competing on a field with each other.”

You said there are only three teams that compete against each other? Is that the same throughout all the camps every year?

“No. It does change. Three is not the most common number but depending on the camp size, we’ll have different amounts of teams. We’ve never needed more than four teams, and so right now, usually it varies between three or four teams, and that just depends on how many students we have.”

How many students make up the three teams?

“About 25 students is a full three-team camp. And we’ve had much, much larger camps in the past… That competition that I just described to you, is our large summer camp competition. We have a few different variables. One for younger students where we use the Vex Robotic System, and we have other camps where we teach website skills, or speaking skills, or different things like that. So, the camps vary depending on age and what you’re looking for, but we have lots to do all summer long.”

Dereck talking to his team at the 2016 Dallas Regional Competition

You guys started out with just two licenses of SOLIDWORKS, but have expanded to acquiring many more. Tell me how that happened.

“We were invited, and I believe by just another engineer or another parent… to speak at a SOLIDWORKS meeting, which was one of the SOLIDWORKS user groups a couple years back. We were looking for a sponsorship, really who we thought [would be] MCAD… but we didn’t know at the time. We were looking for someone to potentially sponsor us in giving us a few licenses over the year, because with a team of forty students, only having two SOLIDWORKS licenses is not ideal. It’s hard to do SOLIDWORKS when the only time you do it is at a meeting, and you can’t take it home and experiment with it. The only time we’re [using it is when] we are working, not training. It’s a little bit harder to train people right in the middle of a situation, than beforehand, so we were struggling with that. When I went to that meeting, we were looking for someone to sponsor us, and it just so happened that a representative of SOLIDWORKS was there. She then gave us an unlimited amount of licenses for the SOLIDWORKS Student Edition, which we still use today. That was one of the first things that we had been able to do with SOLIDWORKS, and so that’s what they gave us. It’s been very, very helpful, [and] I currently have it on my computer in front of me.”

How many member of your team are currently SOLIDWORKS certified?

So right now, I believe that we have two or three students who have been certified, and all three of those students… now have since graduated. I’m on track… to get my certification soon… but we only have a few students who are certified, and they graduated. Right now we don’t have any students certified using SOLIDWORKS. We have, I believe, six students who have taken the SOLIDWORKS Essential course though.”

“…I [plan on getting certified this summer]. I’m going to start with just the associate certification or just the first starting one. Not the skill specific one, but after I finish the first one, then I’ll take the skill specific one. I plan on getting an internship soon when I move to Colorado, or looking for an internship, and so that’s one of the main reasons I want to get my certification. It’s so I can say that I have my certification when I go into an internship.”

Dereck (right) with his team at the 2016 Dallas Regional Competition

As he previously stated, Dereck is relocating to Colorado where he is looking to apply for internships, possibly one at DASSAULT SYSTEMES’s Denver location. Even though he is not yet certified in SOLIDWORKS, Dereck is now stepping into a leadership role that is going to be different than any other role he’s encountered before, due to the fact that three members of his team, who were certified in SOLIDWORKS, have graduated and moved on from the competition. All young students pursuing any type of career or goal should aspire to have the same type of drive and courage that Dereck has for his robotics team, or should I say his company. To learn more about Dereck’s robotics team, click on the following link for more information:

Connor Burke

Brand and User Advocacy Intern at Solidworks Corporation
I am a Brand and User Advocacy Intern for SOLIDWORKS Corporation. I currently reside in Westford, Massachusetts and also attend Syracuse University. I aspire to receive my Communication & Rhetorical Studies degree by May of 2019.