My Clean Sweep Summer: I Built My Own Robot Vacuum
Success Academy – October 9, 2019
As the air outside turns chillier, SA high schoolers are already settling into their electives and clubs and logging major academic achievements — but for scholars who participated in the SA Summer Experience program, memories of summer linger on, along with newfound confidence and new interests. Scholars accepted into the program have the chance to attend collegiate, artistic, and outdoor leadership opportunities both locally and across the country. Sophomore Alexa Torres is one such scholar; she spent her summer figuring out a faster way to get chores done.
Alexa was selected to attend BlueStamp Engineering, a six-week opportunity in New York City that allows students to design and develop sophisticated engineering projects using tools and equipment found in elite university programs and top engineering companies. Students select their projects from a variety of college-level options, build them from scratch, document significant milestones online, and then present their successes and setbacks in the final session — all with the guidance of professional engineers. Alexa decided to build a floor-cleaning robot, complete with ultrasonic sensor, microcontroller, and a motor driver that runs on arduino code. Even though she’d learned some coding in school, this was Alexa’s first chance to undertake an engineering project from design to finish. We spent some time interviewing Alexa on the highlights of her experience; below, she shares memorable moments and reflects on lessons learned from stepping outside her comfort zone.
Why did you decide to spend your summer coding?
My main interest is actually science, but I was still excited to dive deeper into coding and engineering this summer because I’d never dedicated so much time to it before — five hours a day, for six weeks. I thought it would be a fun challenge to build the floor-cleaning robot, but I wanted to push myself and make it even more sophisticated by adding lights. There were a lot of setbacks. My lights overheated and stopped working; it was frustrating! But if there’s one thing that six straight weeks of coding teaches you, it’s persistence. We were given a lot of independent work time, but whenever we became too stuck, our instructors were great about stepping in to give us support.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
Of course I was pretty excited when I finally finished the project. We celebrated milestones along the way, but getting my lights to turn on and change color whenever there was an object in front of the robot made me pretty proud. Beyond that, though, I think it’s worth mentioning that I made some new friends this summer. We became comfortable sharing with each other. I’m generally pretty shy, so this felt like an accomplishment.
Outside of coding, what lessons did you learn from your summer experience?
I found that it was really rewarding to push myself in an area that isn’t necessarily my strongest. I’ve done some coding at Success before, but never dedicated so much time to it as I did this summer. I saw how working hard at something, even if it isn’t your biggest passion, can make you more interested and more invested in succeeding. I think that’s why it’s important to explore different interests before dismissing them. You can learn a lot with an open mind.
All scholars who are in good academic standing are encouraged to apply to SA Summer Experience; online applications for next summer open on October 24, 2019. The rigorous application process has been designed to mirror college admissions, including a personal statement and an interview. All admitted participants will have their application fees, program tuition, and room and board fully paid for by Success Academy!
Above: Alexa’s floor-cleaning robot
Cover photo: Alexa Torres, right, designed and built a floor-cleaning robot as part of her summer at BlueStamp Engineering. Photo Credit: BlueStamp Engineering