Meet Jefferson Bruno
Robotics Mentor, Senior Engineer, Perfectionist
Senior engineer Jefferson Bruno found his career in aviation thanks to a high school robotics program. Now he’s returning as a mentor to help STEM futures take flight.
When he was a sixth grader, Jefferson Bruno saw how much fun his older brother Michael was having with the Waialua High School robotics team, going on trips to continental U.S. cities, and winning competitions. It seemed like a great excuse to travel and hang out with friends, so as a freshman in 2003 he joined Team 359, nicknamed “The Hawaiian Kids.” Now he has returned as a mentor to help future STEM students take flight.
As senior power plant engineer for Hawaiian Airlines, Jefferson is largely responsible for the performance and safety of the fleet's engines (also known as a power plants), what he calls “the heart of the plane.” He leads a team in troubleshooting maintenance issues and directing service bulletins, writing task cards with engine modifications for the aircraft mechanics to implement. His team also collaborates with the engine-building and repair shops to maintain the backup engines, ensuring Hawaiian Airlines flights are always equipped with reliable power.
When he’s not tinkering with engines at his day job, Jefferson is back helping Team 359 at Waialua High build robots with some of the same computer-aided design software he uses as an aircraft engineer. During the intense six-week design, build, and programming session each year, he mentors the robotics team for about 50 hours a week. Then, from March to May, he spends about 15 hours per week helping the students modify their designs in preparation for competitions. Much of the time is focused on keeping the robots in peak condition, writing task cards to execute maintenance, and building spare robots.
In this continual process of refining the robots, the students learn valuable lessons in patience, consistency, and fortitude. “Not everything in life is going to be easy, and not everything you design is going to work,” Jefferson says. “Sometimes it means tweaking the original design or coming up with a better design. I think that’s what robotics instills—the discipline to make it through in life.”
Part of the FIRST Robotics Competition community of roughly 8,000 teams around the globe, Team 359 consistently qualifies for its annual Robotics World Championship. But at the end of the day, winning isn’t what drives Jefferson to act as a mentor. “It’s about honing these students to become better people and molding them into being contributing citizens,” he says. Year after year, he’s noticed more kids from the team going into engineering after high school.