The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

To build a better robot, the robotics team goes into business with boba

The+Steel+Hawks+make+their+boba+easily+accessible+as+you+can+purchase+it+during+lunch+and+order+it+on+your+phone.
Samira Li
The Steel Hawks make their boba easily accessible as you can purchase it during lunch and order it on your phone.
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In addition to building a robot and preparing for competitions, Townsend Harris’s robotics team has become known throughout the school for their side business: selling boba. In the last three years, the Steel Hawks’ boba business has grown in size and popularity. To meet increased demands, the team has added an online ordering system, expanded the menu, and required members to take shifts running the store. 

For ordering online, the team has a QR code system, with flyers that can be found across Townsend Harris’ walls. By scanning the form and filling out a quick form, customers can provide direct instructions for their drink; they are then informed to pick their drink up from either the cafeteria or library once it is ready. They are set up in the lobby during zero band and outside the cafeteria during lunch bands which makes it easily accessible for all students.

Sophomore Jenna Abdelhamid, a robotics member, said, “We completely revamped the ordering system, [which] allowed us to be more organized and know exactly what a person wants… This makes the entire process so much easier.” She said that this use of technology makes the team and café feel more STEM-related.  

In addition to an online ordering system, the team operates multiple pieces of technology to serve its products. According to senior Gurjot Gill, the Steel Hawks President, the biggest pieces of technology the team has are their boba sealer machine and espresso machine. The espresso machine allows them to produce diverse, caffeinated drinks, including lattes and Americanos, something that the Steel Hawks are learning to master.

“If we see our sales slowing down, then we might bring [new equipment] to vitalize the market. But right now, we’re doing pretty good,” Gurjot said.

Learning how to operate the technology and make the boba or coffee drinks is one thing, but students also have to study trends in their sales to maximize efficiency, developing key business skills along the way. 

“We often make more than we sell,” said head coach Joel Heitman. “When we make everything fresh in the morning, we need to make sure we are adjusting to how much we can sell.”

Jenna said, “We’re always trying to make it better: better systems, cleaner [and tighter] shifts, [correct and timely] deliveries.”

Townsend Harris students can be picky when it comes to their boba expectations, so constantly refining the process to meet customer expectations is key. Sophomore Madiha Siddique said, “The product itself has gotten better since last year.” However, she said that the time it takes to get a drink can be inconvenient when students don’t have a great deal of time to wait during free periods. Other students who spoke to The Classic said that the robotics boba store is impressive for a student-run store, and that timeliness and the quality of the tapioca pearls are the things that matter most to them as customers. 

The profits from sales help purchase the rather pricey parts for the team’s robot. 

Senior Isabelle Chen, the lead of the Electrical subteam, said, “For each subteam, there is a $1,000 allocated and we only have that much money to use to buy things like technology, laptops, wires.” She said the boba helps the team get to more competitions, and that when the budget is tighter, pushing boba sales can make a difference. 

Pushing sales only works when enough people are available to help. For that reason, the team requires members to work two shifts. Regardless of the number of years one has been on the team, everyone must pitch in. Senior Vivian Chen, the Vice President of the Steel Hawks, said, “All team members — rookies or veterans — are required to attend two shifts on [an] ABCD rotation. This could be two lunch shifts, two morning shifts, or a combination of one lunch and one morning. Those who do not have a free band are excused from assisting with fundraising.” 

Requiring shifts then leads to the work of managing shifts and making sure people are present for the shift they select. “They have to know when they’re coming — what times, what days…and they have to make sure that they’re here so that we can work to get money for the team,” said Isabelle.  Those working shifts must also keep an eye on Airtable, the app used to receive their orders. “It’s important to be orderly and have time management,” she said.

In the years since the pandemic, the Steel Hawks’ boba operation has become a staple of Townsend Harris’ lobby and school events, while simultaneously teaching top STEM students at the school how to succeed in business. 

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About the Contributor
Samira Li, Photography Editor
Samira is a junior at Townsend Harris High School. She enjoys photography and art, especially digital art, and she loves playing sports, such as table tennis, tennis, handball, etc. She’s also been on the robotics team her entire time in high school and is incredibly passionate for it.
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