Q&A: Jentry Jones and Henry Gertsen, Team Leaders for the L&N STEMpunks

Jones (left) and Gertsen are team leaders for the L&N STEMpunks, the L&N STEM Academy's FIRST Robotics team, which is holding a "bring your own" tailgate Nov. 23 before the UT-Vanderbilt game as a fund-raiser to restore the iconic L&N sign hanging outside the STEM Academy.

How much money do you need to raise?

Jones: We're raising money to restore the sign to working conditions per historic guidelines, and for the costs of our robotics team events. We'd like to raise $50,000.

Why is this sign worth saving?

Jones: The L&N has had a long history—as a train station, as a restaurant, and now, as a school—but it has always brought people together. We've restored many parts of the building and refitted some parts to be classrooms, but currently the broken sign is a shadow on the building's proud history.

Is the technical work on the sign something STEM students can perform?

Jones: Our students are always seeking knowledge, but in order to comply with the regulations imposed by the historical society, we have to order professional work.

What made you join STEMpunks?

Jones: Originally, I joined in my freshman year in order to gain technical skills, such as structural, electrical, and mechanical engineering. But in my sophomore year, I decided to make a shift to gain more experience in finance; now I'm the finance team leader.

Gertsen: In my middle school I wasn't very involved in school activities, but this school has a very different atmosphere. My interest in engineering school activities drew me to the team. Our first task of building a robot for the Veterans Day parade really got me to commit to the club.

Is the school meeting your expectations so far?

Jones: My, my, has it ever exceeded my expectations. I could gush about my school all day. The L&N STEM Academy is truly the school for scholarly individuals: the teachers genuinely care about their students' education, the lessons are unique and entertaining, opportunities to self-motivate are abundant, and technology is integrated flawlessly. It suits me perfectly.

Gertsen: I completely agree with Jentry. This school is awesome.

Did you have to apply to get in the STEM school?

Jones: Yes, everyone has to apply to get into the L&N STEM Academy. However, the process is not as rigorous as you might expect. Essentially, it's a lottery — all individuals seeking a better education get tossed into a hat and randomly chosen. If any interested individuals are reading, you can find more information on this at our school's website: lnstemac.knoxschools.org.

What's your main contribution to the robotics?

Gertsen: We are now in our third year and so far I have been a major communicator for the team.[ I keep everyone up to date by emailing everyone when we have news or when we are going to have meetings.] My major work has been with the rebranding of the team to our new STEMpunks brand. I made the new logo and I worked with one of our members, Josh Witt, on redesigning and updating the Facebook page.

Jones: As a junior, my time remaining with the robotics team is limited. I'm hoping to impart important information and skills to the freshmen and sophomores in my finance team to ensure that they will be able to do a better job than I ever did.

Will the STEMpunks help you with your academic/career future?

Jones: As part of my role for the STEMpunks, I have written business plans, managed small groups of people, drafted detailed schedules, and spoken to a great number of individuals from all different backgrounds. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I'm trying to make the most out of it.

Gertsen: The knowledge I have learned and am learning in robotics could not have been taught in a conventional classroom. I do not know what I want to do in the future, but I can assure you that no matter what I go into, robotics has helped me.

Is STEMpunks more social or academic for you?

Jones: If you mean social as in sitting in a circle and singing campfire songs, robotics at the L&N STEM Academy is most certainly not that. Our members are expected to put in their fair share, and Henry and I are not exempt from that.

Gertsen: It is more of a sport for me. Myself and many others in the team put a large sum of time into this activity. We look at what we have done right and wrong every time we do something, we have a competition that we have to practice and prepare for, and we have to use skill and precision to succeed in this sport.

Do you plan to win at the regionals?

Jones: Every year since the beginning, we have been improving as a team. This year will certainly be our best yet.

Gertsen: "Do you plan to win at the regionals?" Yes. Next question.

The tailgate will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 23; parking is free until 3 p.m. and tickets are $10 per person and free for children 10 and under. Parking after 3 p.m. is $20 and proceeds will benefit STEM Academy clubs.