Daniel Rupert, a math and engineering teacher at the Preuss School UCSD, welcomes students every morning in his goofy voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen! Let’s build Battlebots!” Mr. Rupert’s silly jokes and easy-going persona has become a constant to his students, who find his hands-on teaching approach refreshing and enjoyable. Mr. Rupert came to Preuss in 2004 with a resume and a copy of Wired Magazine where he was photographed crouching inside a 180-pound exoskeleton lifting a 650-pound barbell. Three years later, he teaches Honors Algebra, Lego Robotics, Introduction to Engineering, and Principles of Engineering. Mr. Rupert engages 270 students, 30% of the school, in engineering. Among those, 57% are female, who aspire to break the “women can’t be engineers” stereotype.
Enthused by Mr. Rupert’s attitude about FIRST, many students go on to join team 812. He organizes the team into subgroups catering to different aspects of the competition. Students learn organization and communication through experience as leaders and responsible teammates. Providing instruction and encouragement, Mr. Rupert empowers students with skills in business and robot construction to become self-reliant. Constantly getting students to reach outside the school and team, he stresses outreach and robotics events. Beyond that, he provides transportation to give all opportunity to benefit from FIRST. Whether it’s sawing down wooden shelves for the homeless or securing the robot crate in the pouring rain, Mr. Rupert is right there with the students, working away. Under his leadership, the team has become a “model of a successful engineering corporation” [Qualcomm].
While working with Team San Diego, San Diego Regional Planning Committee and advising Team 812, Mr. Rupert stays devoted to teaching. He patiently instructs students and motivates those struggling by building relationships where students ask for help. He tutors after school and offers weekend help. Coming from a personal situation having worked multiple jobs to put himself through college, Mr. Rupert understands most Preuss students can’t turn to their parents, most of whom having little college education, for help. “Mr. Rupert is much more than just an advisor, or even a friend. He’s family” says Paul Nguyen, a 12th grader on the team. Mr. Rupert offers a place for students to learn and receive the support they need; a second home.
“I Have No Life. I Build Robots!” reads Mr. Rupert’s license plate. True; he doesn’t have a life. He teaches ten hours a day, dedicates extra hours afterward to robotics, and works on his BattleBot on the weekends. No matter how busy he is, Mr. Rupert makes time to encourage students to pursue their aspirations, especially in sciences. As a result, students on Team 812 often find themselves participating in scholarships and internships programs with UCSD and other notable institutions across the United States. “I remember in 9th grade, driving back from a work day at his house one night”, a senior member, Thien Nguyen recalls. “He said to me, “Thien! You are destined to become an engineer…” He didn’t know it then, but those words stuck with me. They’re the reason why I’m now heading to college, planning to major in engineering.”
With 80% of Team alumni pursuing careers in mathematics and science at elite universities like Amherst, Harvard, MIT, NYU, Stanford, and the UCs, students on Team 812 overcome biases attached to their low socioeconomic status. Coming from poor families, most of the team grew up thinking college was out of their reach. Everyday, Mr. Rupert takes a step further in changing that perception. For us, the Midnight Mechanics, Mr. Rupert is a role model, a friend, a parent, and the catalyst for change among students.