I still fondly remember one of the first moments back in 2010 when Mr. Oosterhout, my fifth-grade math and science teacher, introduced the class to these interesting gadgets called Lego Mindstorms. In the middle of the classroom sat a giant board split in half with a black line of tape which the robot closely followed using its line sensors. The bulky white NXT brick with big orange buttons was tugged along by the two little Lego Mindstorm motors. The robot snaked across the board with precision and independence from any human control. I was instantaneously fascinated and filled with curiosity. Spurned by my love for building and creating from a young age, particularly with Legos, I was already mildly interested in the field of STEM and engineering. However, it was at that moment, the moment I first stepped into the realm of robotics, where these experiences continue to inspire me to this day.
In that same year, The Woods created the first Woods FIRST FLL team known as The Owlbots. The general overwhelming amount of interest in robotics led Mr. Ossterhout, the teacher at the time, to randomly pick names out of a hat for the first year. Unfortunately, my name was not one of those picked out of the hat. I was disappointed, yet determined and hopeful that there would be more opportunities. To my delight, in sixth grade, The Woods started a second team known as The Green Machine. This time, it played in my favor. I loved being on the robotics team. The seemingly endless supply of Lego Mindstorm robotics materials provided by The Woods greatly facilitated the process of tinkering around and testing different ideas. Not only did I have friends who participated alongside me, but my interest in innovating, programming, and experimenting with different ideas encouraged me to continue to pursue the robotics path.
After I graduated from The Woods in 2014, I was motivated by the experience gained from the class and teams, The Green Machine and The Owlbots. Upon entering St. John’s College High School (SJC) my freshman year, one of the first clubs I joined was the Mech Cadets, the SJC FIRST FRC robotics team. Our team, FIRST FRC Team 4456, was founded in 2012 by fellow Woods graduate Joe Nadonley (2012). The tasks and difficulty of FRC were challenging. While the robots in FLL are about the size of your hand, robots in FRC competitions were as big as 28’ x 38’ x 55’ and can weigh up to 120 pounds. The team would go to a massive competition similar to that of FLL while playing on a field the size of a mid-sized classroom and attempting tasks like lifting and stacking crates, launching balls, and even climbing ropes and bars. Even though several aspects of FIRST robotics change, such as the size and magnitude of the robot and competition, the core concepts and ideas of engineering remain.
Meeting four times during the week and on Saturdays, my first two years on the SJC robotics team consisted of fulfilling my dreams of working on the alluring mechanical and electrical teams. I loved tinkering and working with the robot, engaged in projects such as building gearboxes and shooter mechanisms, wiring electrical components on the robot and contributing towards building our chassis. However, during my junior year, we formally established a Business Team where I changed my focus. I joined the Business Team, which focused mainly on team operations, funding, awards, logistics, outreach, and marketing. It enabled the team to become more independent and student-led than ever before. In my senior year, I continued my work on the Business team, with a specific focus on awards, logistics, and outreach, where I contacted businesses and organizations for sponsorship and mentorship and local schools, such as The Woods, to promote STEM, facilitated by the STEAM Showcase hosted by The Woods, which the Mech Cadets were fortunate enough to attend and display their robot.
I am lucky since my time on the robotics team at St. John’s has been one of incredible success. During Sophomore year, we were champions of the Chesapeake Bay Regional Competition, and we followed that up with qualification and attendance World’s in St. Louis my Junior year. It was moments like these that made me realize that it was not only a massive milestone for the team, but it was also a meaningful personal milestone which enabled me to recognize my passion and dedication to robotics over the last seven years come to fruition with successes I could never have imagined. Now a senior and in my fourth season, I hope to be able to replicate the success we have had in the past two years and go even further. This year, we won the FIRST greater DC District Event, later attending States.
Applying to college made me reflect on the significant processes I have gone through to solidify my interests in STEM. My experiences on the SJC robotics team definitely had a major impact in solidifying something I would’ve called an interest freshman year. Furthermore, the experiences and inspiration The Woods provided as a foundation for robotics were pivotal in establishing my passion in the field of engineering. Seven years after initially joining The Woods Green Machine robotics team and soon heading to Purdue University as an industrial engineer, The Woods’ mission of “preparing its students to lead a life of significance” continues to resonate with me as I begin another chapter of my life.