Each of the Carl Hayden students—Oscar, Cristian, Lorenzo, and Luis—is able to bring a unique skillset to the table as the team prepares for the robotics competition. In addition, the competition demonstrates that, as with all exceptional teams, the students’ work together is greater than the sum of its parts. Not only do the students inspire each other and add to each other’s work when building their robot, but their friendship and teamwork becomes essential in providing them with a purpose and a sense of motivation to achieve their goals.
The team becomes a way of providing the Carl Hayden students with that invaluable sense of belonging that comes with friendship. The students begin the story as outcasts: Lorenzo in particular is constantly teased by other students because he has an odd-shaped head and wears his hair in a long mullet. Luis has a tough time making friends because of his formidable size, and also because he doesn’t speak very often. Oscar starts the story as a part of a group with ROTC, but when he finds out that he cannot enlist in the Army due to his immigration status, he seeks out another team that he can be a part of and lead. At first, the students rib each other and are skeptical of each other’s suggestions as they focus on their own ideas on how to build the robot. Oscar worries about Lorenzo’s dedication, for instance, and Cristian thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. As they each take the lead on different tasks that the robot is supposed to complete as a part of the competition, however, they start to respect each other’s ideas; for example, when Lorenzo invents a way to test liquid using only a balloon, a milk container, and a sump pump, the other boys start to view him as a valuable member and are friendlier to him.
As they learn to trust each other, they become closer and closer on a personal level. By the end of the book, Lorenzo describes how their club becomes “a new kind of gang” and leads to meaningful friendships beyond the competition. They develop conversational short-hands and inside jokes, which become the sort of friendly trash talk that often characterizes high school relationships. Lorenzo even brings in food from his cooking class for them all to share. It’s clear that all four young men gain a community through the robotics team, and that community gives them confidence and the ability to succeed.
Indeed, their friendship is presented as a specific source of motivation for both their group and individual success, and they regularly seek to lift each other up. Oscar, who was a leader in his ROTC battalion, becomes the de facto leader and makes sure to get everyone motivated for the competition. He constantly puts positive spins on anything that goes wrong, so that the other students retain confidence about the progress they are making. Lorenzo goes through a personal transformation as a result of the club. Initially, he is late to their meetings and is also a jokester, which prevents Oscar from trusting him fully. When Lorenzo lets his grades slip as he dedicates more and more time to the robotics club, the leader of the program, Fredi, tells him to get his grades up or he can no longer be a part of it. Lorenzo proceeds to sit in the front of all of his classes and do all of his homework, and as such is able to raise his GPA. By the end, the dedication that Lorenzo shows impresses even Oscar. When Oscar has to stay up until 2:30 a.m. the night before their competition re-soldering their controls, Lorenzo offers to stay up with him, and Oscar feels immense respect and gratitude for his teammate. Impressed by Lorenzo’s dedication, Cristian, Oscar, and Luis follow suit in making sure they keep up their grades. This reveals that motivation is contagious and allows the students to succeed in many different facets of their life.
The book shows that there are many reasons and unique circumstances that allow the Carl Hayden students to succeed. But it’s clear that without each other’s support, they could not have come anywhere close to achieving what they do. The robotics team does what the best kind of communities do: provide a sense of belonging, a means for teamwork, and a constant motivation to improve both oneself and others.
Teamwork, Friendship, and Motivation ThemeTracker
Teamwork, Friendship, and Motivation Quotes in Spare Parts
In his nineteen years as an ROTC commander, Goins had never met a finer student than Oscar. He embodied everything the military was looking for: leadership, intelligence, dependability, integrity, tact, selflessness, and perseverance. […] “Oscar had it all,” Goins remembers. “His only drawback was that he wasn't a U.S. citizen.”
The whole point was to give the guys a chance to accomplish something beyond what they thought possible. But if they showed up at the event and failed utterly, it would only reinforce the impression that they didn't belong in the contest in the first place. That could leave a kid such as Lorenzo with a permanent sense of inferiority.
For Lorenzo, the robotics team was like a new family. In some respects, Fredi and Allan were surrogate parents, constantly advising him and pushing him to do better. […] A team spirit had developed. Lorenzo wasn't the only one sitting in the front row of his classes.
“It needs a name,” Lorenzo said.
Oscar remembered Lorenzo’s choking on the glue fumes and suggested, “Why don’t we call it Stinky?”
The group also offered some of the same benefits of being in a gang. Now that he hung out with Luis on campus, Lorenzo found that other students were less likely to make fun of him.
But in this moment, Oscar realized that Lorenzo was intensely committed. Good engineering solutions had value. But, to Oscar, doing things that no one else wanted to do, toughing it out and being a soldier, that's what counted.