Student Voice: What Inspires You?
|Sierra and her FIRSTBoeing mentor and father|
This time last year I was a senior at Gresham High School and was planning on majoring in Biology. I was a good student and had been accepted to the college of my choice, but I was drifting through my life without feeling much of anything. My dad and I were struggling to find things in common since I had had to stop playing softball due to an injury. Unsure about everything, lacking confidence, and scared of the future, I kept on trudging along through the days and weeks of my senior year.
January 2011: It was Saturday, and I had been woken up at 5 am by my excited dad asking me to figure out a way to record a live stream of a mysterious “robotics kick-off” on NASA TV. Groggily I sat in front of my computer and waited for the stream to start. Suddenly, a catchy music track began, along with a video. Words and pictures moved around the screen and I was instantly captivated, especially when it said “what inspires you?” I was so disturbed by my lack of an answer that I decided to stumble back to bed and try not to dwell on it.
A few days later I am in the car with my dad, headed to a robotics meeting for the first time. Mostly I just wanted to go to say I went so my dad would stop asking me to try it. I knew I had no technical skills and I was convinced that the kids there would be much smarter than me. He kept telling me they accept everyone, but I was scared and skeptical of the whole thing. Nervously, I climbed the stairs to the meeting room and I was greeted enthusiastically by a gaggle of boys and a couple dads who seemed oddly happy to see me there.
As the meeting started and progressed, I was totally overwhelmed with information. Phrases like “drive-train,” “game piece manipulator,” and “cRIO” swirled around the room. I started to think that there was no way I would ever understand what was going on. At the end of the meeting, a mentor approached me and asked what I thought I might be able to do to help the team. “Well, I’m more of a writer,” I explained. “I don’t think I’m what you guys are looking for.” He responded with an excited grin. “A writer! That’s exactly what we need. Any chance you could run a website?” I thought about it before saying, “I don’t code, but I could run a blog, would that work?” The smile said it all. Unexpectedly, I had become webmaster of a robotics team.
My involvement in the team grew quickly after that, as did my desire to fully understand what was happening. I could write about 80/20 aluminum all I wanted, but what good would that do for the team if I had no idea what it was? Within a month, I had learned enough to be able to participate in the important conversations. Everyone was willing to answer my questions and I never once felt like I was looked down upon for not being as experienced as the others. Determined to understand as much as possible, I volunteered to work with the mechanical team along with my marketing work.
Some time at the end of February, I realized that I was the happiest I had been in years. I finally had friends who were just like me: kind of nerdy, craving hands on work, healthy appreciation of Star Wars, big dreams for the future; I am sure you know the type. There was something in my life to look forward to, a healthy atmosphere to enjoy after school, a common goal we were all working towards, and I was even getting math tutoring from the team. As an added bonus, I had finally found that new hobby to enjoy with my dad. Eventually I was voted to be drive team coach, which I never would have expected! The only thing missing, I realized, was that I still felt hopeless when I thought about the future.
The idea to switch my major to engineering literally came to me in a dream. I woke up, and all I could think was “I can do that.” I brought up the idea to a few people; my physics teacher, a mentor on the robotics team, a few of my friends, and all of them said “yes, you can do that.” Within a week, I officially changed my major to engineering. Finally, I could answer that question, “what inspires you?” What inspires me is the ability to instigate change, to solve problems, and to create. As I write this, I am sitting in my dorm at Oregon State University. Someday, I will be an engineer, and that never would have happened without FIRST. I do not know where I would be without this program. The fact that I am a female in the field makes it that much more amazing. I thought I could never be successful in this sort of career, but FIRST showed me I could.
Sierra K., OSU Engineering Student, Gresham High School Alum