SOUTHINGTON — Gino and Sandra Brino, the couple who have been the driving force behind the high school robotics team, received UNICO’s gold medal award for 2017.
Gino Brino, a local dentist with a background in manufacturing, helps recruit volunteers with electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and programming skills to help students build award-winning robots. Using her experience as a project manager, Sandra Brino sets goals and organizes the robotics team as a business. The program costs about $80,000 annually, the vast majority comes from sponsors, including Mohawk Northeast and the Fragola family.
The couple started volunteering with the team more than a decade ago when their daughter was at Southington High School. They began running it in 2008.
“We really saw what a great program it was for the students,” Gino Brino said. “It really gave a group of students something different beyond a sports activity or a band activity where they can really group together and have that (team) spirit.”
Southington’s team, the CyberKnights, competes as part of the FIRST organization against teams in the region and around the world. This weekend the Brinos and the team were in Boston for the New England Championships, a competition they’ve won for the past three years.
“We probably will qualify (for nationals in Detroit),” Sandra Brino said Friday between rounds. “We’re hoping to do well here. So far so good.”
Brian Stranieri, high school principal, said the couple puts “a tremendous amount of time and energy” into the program.
“The success of our program, each and every year, is directly related to their dedication and hard work,” Stranieri said. “Our CyberKnights have gained many life lessons under their leadership. We are very fortunate to have these two outstanding individuals working with our students annually.”
The team has around 50 participating students. Freshmen spend the first part of their school year practicing on smaller robots before joining teammates from January to June in the FIRST competition.
During the competition season, Sandra Brino said she and her husband are constantly building or improving the robot.
“We’re in the shop every single day,” she said.
UNICO’s gold medal is an annual award that goes to distinguished citizens. The Brinos will be honored at a dinner ceremony on May 16.
The couple are Southington natives, met at Southington High School, and have lived in town since. Gino Brino is a former president of UNICO and joined shortly after marrying Sandra Brino in 1987. They have two adult daughters.
Gino Brino, a partner at Southington Family Dentistry, participates in week-long dental clinics in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Access to dental care is limited in those countries, he said.
“The nearest dentists, they have to travel 50 miles or more,” Gino Brino said. Sandra has accompanied him and has training as a dental assistant.
The couple now attend Faith Living in Plantsville but they also helped found a church in West Hartford. Gino Brino said his faith motivates their service.
“God is a big part of our life. We thank him for everything that we have,” he said. “That’s why we do what we do.”