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Trevor Noon: Academic All Star inspired by a neighbor and robotics

Out of all the life influences that helped add up to Trevor Noon’s ambition and full scholarship to Harvard next year, the computer engineer who lived next door was the most serendipitous.

“It was really interesting having his brain to pick,” said Trevor, reflecting on his career at Newfane High School. “The day I went to his work, that was the big turning point, I think.”

For almost a decade the Noon family lived in a Newfane house next to Russell Crandall who works for Synacor, the Buffalo-based tech and Web-hosting firm. Trevor liked the biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs and was excited to visit Synacor’s headquarters and discover how much the tech company vibe resonated. Cool posters on the wall. People teaming up on projects. It helped him know he was on the right track aiming to major in computer science and get an MBA.

“There’s just sort of like a comfort in the air,” he said of the visit.

In high school, his work on the robotics team helped give him direction. “I like finding that one definite answer,” he said. “I like solving the problem.”

This year their “Circuit Stompers” team won the regional Finger Lakes championship with a robot built with a hook feature and an elevator mechanism. It aced the challenge of reaching high and stacking bins.

“Our motto is always simple is better,” Trevor said. “It’s like you’re playing a video game almost.”

He believes his success in high school started in middle school when he realized he had a knack for math and science. English was a more difficult subject for him so he worked harder on that. By his eighth grade graduation, he had been first in his class three years in a row.

His father motivated him when he started high school by promising a car if he could keep it up. Trevor, the valedictorian, gives his parents credit for his success and a “huge, huge thank you.”

They also helped by supporting him but not pressuring. “They’re really relaxed,” he said.

His father Curt sells furniture at Value City, has a great sense of humor and cheers him by nonchalantly kidding when things at school are disappointing. His mother Carol, a lab technician for the Lockport water and sewer department, gave him rides everywhere and kept his football and baseball equipment in order.

When college acceptance letters started coming in, he first thought he’d pick the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his “dream school.” But then Harvard offered to cover tuition and most of the room and board. Now he’s looking forward to experiencing life in Cambridge and Boston. “It’s kind of hard to turn down a full ride from arguably the best college in the world,” he said.

He didn’t get a free car after all, but says it doesn’t matter. He’s looking forward to going to Harvard without one next fall.

“I’m ready to try that whole, different way of life,” he said.

It will be interesting to go from the two stoplights he’s used to in Newfane to living in Boston and Cambridge, places with lots of traffic and good public transportation.

“Really, in the end I didn’t win a car,” he said, “but it was worth it.” For now he’s been borrowing his mother’s car. “Now it’s got the official Harvard sticker on it,” he said.