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Aarushi Majumder wins the First Dean's List Award

Grade 12 Aarushi Majumder wins the FIRST Dean’s List Award.


Aarushi Majumder attended the Dean's List Summit in Manchester, NH, USA. The award is given to outstanding student leaders who have demonstrated exemplary technical expertise, entrepreneurship, creativity and commitment at attaining FIRST ideals. A total of 10 students out of over 75000 students participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition last year were given this award, and Aarushi was the first non -American to receive it in the 9-year history of the award.


At the Summit, Aarushi had the opportunity to interact with inspiring personalities like Dean Kamen, Founder FIRST; Woodie Flowers, Emeritus Professor at the MIT; and the Deans and admissions officers of MIT and Yale (MIT and Yale actively support this FRC program). In addition, at the FIRST supporters’ dinner and meetings, she met with the representatives of various FIRST suppliers and corporates. All these experiences were huge learning opportunities.



Day 1 - The MIT VISIT


Professor Woodie Flowers welcomed everyone to the MIT campus with an inspiring speech. He spoke about the importance of making one’s education count by making the best of every opportunity afforded. A lot of children go to school but don’t engage with what they learn; they are passively trained.


It is important to ensure you are educated, actively engaged in the learning process and not merely trained in order to be able to solve the world’s greatest problems and make a difference. He also spoke of the importance of finding good people and anchoring yourself in college- all the while staying away from the herd mentality. He recognized that the one thing that human beings can do that machines can’t, one thing uniquely human, is to truly empathize. For any invention to be successful and useful there must be true empathy behind its conception. He also mentioned that in discussions and in life in general we would meet people who are persuasive. Just because someone is persuasive doesn’t mean they’re right, and just because someone is right doesn’t mean they’re persuasive. He explained to us that as the leaders of tomorrow it was our job to know the difference between the two, pull the best out of people and to take hundreds of people with us on our path. Most importantly, he expressed the importance of learning how to fail and to be gracious in failure. There is no point in shielding oneself from failure; it is always better to learn from it.


Subsequently, Brandon, a FIRST alum, past Dean’s List Award Winner and MIT sophomore took us on an engaging tour of the vibrant campus, with its dorms, athletics facilities and dome, explaining to us MIT culture, traditions and hacks. We visited the MIT museum, housing various artifacts made by MIT alumni, including a hyper speed car and moral machine for self-driving cars.


We were suitably awed by the robotic exhibit, containing robots that could read emotions, and perform simple tasks like using a slinky. The best part about the museum, according to me was its perfect balance of machines and art that came through in the exploding chairs, self-bathing gears and self-dusting violins that we saw there. The highlight of the MIT tour, however, was the visit to the MIT Media Labs. Being in this state of the art building felt remarkably like being inside a time-machine or sci-fi novel some 100 years in the future. The entire group took in the scene wide eyed and open mouthed. This was the birthplace of Google Maps, of touch screens, of rock band and countless other innovations that had changed life. There were a lot of innovations witnessed like the staircases that were designed specifically to increase human interaction with people one would not normally talk to; or the ginormous labs with fewer than 100 dust particles within them; stories of ongoing projects that would enable people to see around corners and read through closed books. Information was given about ongoing projects such as AlterEgo, Dormio, NeverMind.This was truly inspirational as these projects were made by studentsand they would truly revolutionize the world, for the better.




The Summit’s supplier dinner was at the Dean’s house, where Dean Kamen had opened his house to over 150 suppliers and strategic partners of FIRST. The house was gorgeous - with rustic red brick walls and a stylishly modern design - and timeless. Combined with the lush surrounding gardens and calm pond, the scene belonged on a post card. As the group toured the house they were told of Dean’s Christmas gifts - innovations that DEKA employees had put all their efforts into making. From self-calibrating pendulums to chess playing arms and a mint to create currency for Dean’s private island nation of North Dumpling, the creativity and imagination running wild in that house was simply spectacular. The tour ended in Dean’s helicopter hangar, where this year’s FRC game field was set up along with a few robots to stage a demonstration for FIRST’s sponsors and strategic partners. Here, most of the participants received the opportunity to speak to adults in engineering fields, some of whose job descriptions were innovation. Aarushi met potential sponsors and told them of her team’s situation. They wereextremely understanding and supportive, promising to help her team in whatever way possible. She met a lot of interesting people, who were excited to listen to her story and wanted to know how they could help her. Some promised to help connect her to sponsors (in India sponsorship and resources are a challenge), others wanted to help her realize and achieve my dreams. Once dinner had concluded, the speeches began. Dean Kamen, Don Bossi and Woodie Flowers all welcomed everyone and fondly recounted the journey of FIRST over the years. Then, Reed Blanchard, a fellow Deans’s List winner was invited to speak to all the guests about his journey and how FIRST had impacted him. Reed told us of his father’s accident that had led him to be a paraplegic who had difficulty communicating. It was Reed who eventually helped ease his difficulty in communicating by creating an FLL project to help his father. As a student whose life has been changed by FIRST, Reed’s story was inspiring and emotional.



The panel discussion with suppliers was a wonderful opportunity for us to give a team’s perspective on the Kit of Parts (KOP) and what was liked about it this year and what could be done to make it better in the future. All FIRST suppliers were present, including Andy Mark, 3M, Digi Key, Siemens, Bosch and Nidec among others. Some of the questions received were:


  • What was your favorite part in the KOP this year?
  • What changes would you like made/what parts would you like incorporated in the KOP next year?
  • How can suppliers interact more with teams in person? On social media?
  • What is the most effective way to present documentation? Video? Bullet points? Print?
  • 10 years in the future what role do you think Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and simulation will play in the KOP?
  • How can suppliers play a more active role in the FIRST ecosystem?



Some of the solutions/answers that were proposed as a panel were:


  • Favorite parts ranged from the standard chassis to compliant wheels to motor controllers to roborio and programming documentation/ libraries
  • Parts proposed were crimpers, hand tools, different kinds of rivets and adhesives, clearer documentation, bumper parts
  • Documentation tends to be extensive and vast so providing an easy to navigate pamphlet would help many rookie teams. Documentation should be multi-modal to cater to all kinds of learner’s including videos, podcasts, screenshots and paragraphs. Online documentation is preferred for international teams to easily access.
  • Simulation, especially one that multiple teams can join and play virtual matches will be extremely useful
  • Suppliers can engage with teams on social media by issue if various challenges and recognizing teams that successfully complete them. They can also visit team pits at competitions and hold interviews to engage teams and to encourage more teams to reach out to them





Aarushi got the opportunity to have a round table discussion with the director of FIRST Frank Merrik and all the Engineers that make the game each year a reality. In an hour-long Q&A session, we picked their brain on the idea behind each year’s theme, on the process of field and game design, on the hardest game they ever designed and, on their experience, working as a FIRST engineer. They answered all questions in detail – the theme is often randomly picked but sometimes linked to the year’s noteworthy event (case in point the 50th anniversary of the moon landing leading to Destination: Deep Space). Field and game design is a long process that the engineers don’t have the luxury of getting wrong or wasting time. In a short 8-month period, they conceptualize, CAD and create prototypes of field elements and challenges for the year. Through the process it is extremely important to try and think like the teams in order to discover loopholes and ambiguous clauses. The hardest game to design, from a mechanical perspective, was FIRST Stronghold, with its shifting defenses, and from a control systems perspective was FIRST Steamworks, because of the difficulty in tagging each ball (the fuel).




One of the most highly anticipated parts of the Summit was meeting with Dean Kamen himself. He recounted FIRST’s journey from its inception, including the struggles he had to overcome. Simultaneously, he told everyone about his own journey, from an average student who was still finding his place in the world to an inventor who witnessed people’s struggles and then with human empathy and creativity, built machines to solve these problems. He informed the group about the first machine he built – a mobile dialysis machine – and about some subsequent projects, including a self-balancing, stair-climbing wheelchair for amputees whose daily lives were a struggle. Meeting someone who approached the world’s problems one at a time and then invented machines to solve the problem was particularly inspirational. Aarushi's group asked him questions about his success and he proceeded to give them extremely insightful and relevant advice for making our own way in the world. He told them that there is no shortcut to success but that one must work hard and fail hard to someday reach anywhere. There was no alternative for failure and that one should celebrate failure because that’s the only way one can bounce back and move on. He emphasized that a reputation takes a lifetime to build and only a minute to destroy, so one should always be honest and just. This was followed by a book introduction and signing, the book being a premium, heavy, coffee table volume documenting the science behind all DEKA’s (a technology research and development company founded by Dean Kamen) Christmas gifts to Dean Kamen.




The DEKA tour once again put Aarushi amd her group in the presence of some of the coolest and impactful inventions I’ve come across including the iBot – a self-balancing, stair-climbing wheelchair for amputees and paraplegics, Slingshot – a water purification system for third world countries, and the Luke Arm – a prosthetic arm that can perform all the functions a normal arm and can be controlled by an accelerometer in shoes. Lastly, the DEKA machine shop in its full, capable glory was witnessed by all.




The head of alumni relations at FIRST spoke to the participants, asking about the ways we planned to stay in touch with FIRST. Some ways included mentoring teams nearby once in college, starting new teams and ensuring that they had the right mentors, sponsors and infrastructure to continue as a self-sufficient entity, or virtually mentoring any team that requires helping a specific discipline such as programming.




The last thing on our agenda for the day was a dinner with the Deputy Dean of Engineering and the Senior Assistant Director of admissions at Yale. They told us stories of FIRST alums at Yale, as they built race cars and airplanes in college and then eventually went on to work at companies like SpaceX and DEKA. This was followed by Q&A session about the admissions process.


Aarushi says, "These were truly learning experiences. With our school starting an FRC team, this opportunity would be an incredible one for all 10th and 11th graders. I look forward to playing an active role on our school team."