We are not competing for the award, because we are in the HOF. We do this because it is still a great way to reflect on what we are doing as a team… Not competing also gives us the freedom to experiment what what our team wants to express…
Hello my name is Kelly Rexroat and I am the treasurer of the Falcon Robotics team at Carl Hayden High School. Unlike the 97% of Hispanics roaming the Carl Hayden campus, I am the only student of Chinese descent. I was born in a province in China called Pingjiang. I was sent to a orphanage center in Pingjiang and was fostered out for two months just before my adoption. The family name was Huang and they named me Huang Linglong which means ingenious and delicate. When my adoption was agreed upon, the director of the orphanage and her attendant traveled with me on a train for three hours to Nanchang. I was adopted out to a loving mom who flew all the way to get me when I was nine months old. While the adoption papers were being finalized, a very large group of Chinese residents gathered around the street and they were asking the interpreter, “Why are all these round eyed people taking our babies?” The interpreter explained that these babies were getting adopted to go to homes with new families. The Chinese group was extremely pleased and approving of this. After the paperwork was finalized, I flew to America to live in Indianapolis, Indiana to start a new life.
Growing up, there were never any children who looked like me. I was the only child in the family. It was just my mom and I with the addition of two dogs, three cats, and a rabbit. I started preschool at the age of two where I learned to share and work with other kids. When I was four I entered a prekindergarten program at Little People’s Prep until second grade. That school then closed and then my mom enrolled me in a charter school called Light House. She did this because the charter school would challenge me. There was a decent mixture of Caucasians and African Americans, but there seemed to be a lack of Asian students. The only other Asian besides myself was a Korean boy.
On weekends, my mom took me to numerous events and museums such as The Children’s Museum. The exposure to various events and trips to museums lead me think about jobs that I might want to do as a grown up. One weekend at The Children’s Museum there was a job fair for nurses. One nurse asked, “ Are you going to be a nurse little girl?” and I replied, “Nope, I’m going to be a Doctor! I don’t want to take care of people, I want to fix people!” I was a very determined child. My mom knew I was smart because I found the work at school too easy.
At the age of nine, we packed up and moved down to Phoenix, Arizona. It was 112 degrees in July and I thought we really made a huge mistake! For a while we lived with my grandfather who lived in a title one school district attendance zone. Starting third grade, I lived in the Alhambra school district. It was very difficult to situate myself in a new school where there was no one that I knew. Not only was I a brand new kid, but being Chinese was troublesome at that age because I was constantly bullied for having a physical appearance that was distinctively different to the rest of the school who was filled with mostly Hispanics. My nickname was “Chinita or China girl”. This school was a title one school where teachers only taught the minimum standards but my mom knew I could better. While I was at school, I learned how to write in cursive and during the summer I took Chinese classes and I participated in The NanoTechnology Cluster, a group in Tucson that talks about new technology. I got to go to this organization because of my mother.
At The Nanotechnology Cluster I met Mat Kim. He was a physicist and he expressed the importance of math in the Asian culture. He said, “We need to be smart.” and he invited me to compete in a contest that involved real world application with nanotechnology. My essay was about solar paint with nanoparticles. It was a nanoparticle paint that after you painted your house it would absorb heat from the sun and warm your house. I won fourth place and two hundred dollars! I then entered the science fair at my school with a new topic that was about blood and fluid absorption with medical gauze. I explained to the judges how nanotechnology is everywhere and how it is currently being used in the medical world. The smaller the particles of the fiber in the gauze the better absorption, thus saving lives from blood loss. With my demonstration of my understanding of the medical use of nanotechnology, I won the first prize!
During the same time, through my mom’s work, I was exposed to FIRST Robotics, Battlebots, VEX, and the FIRST Lego League. By the time I was ten, I met several teachers who knew my mom and who were involved heavily in robotics such as Marea Jeness and her boy Daniel. Marea had a robotics team that participated in the FIRST Robotics Competition and Battlebots. Daniel and I were the same age and we got to help set up at various robotics competitions and do errands. While helping at these competitions I met even more students on other robotic teams who were enthusiastic. I also met Mr. Lajvardi at these competitions, who later would become a more prominent figure in my life.
The next time meeting Mr. Lajvardi was at the National Underwater Robotics Challenge competition during the summer of my fifth grade. Mr. Lajvardi was ecstatic that people would come to his competition and was happy to explain how his competition worked. There were robots swimming around and performing all kinds of tasks underwater. I was an extremely shy and quiet person but when I was introduced to Mr. Lajvardi I forgot about that. My shyness was replaced with curiosity. I was intrigued and amazed at the fact that not only could the students could actually make a robot move underwater but that the kids were still having fun doing it!
During sixth grade, I moved once again to a new middle school where there were no extra curricular activities. While I was at this school, my counselor informed me about a summer programming camp at ASU that involved First Lego League. For two weekends I got the opportunity to understand programming, assembling Lego pieces, and how to work as a team. The best part was having fun while competing with other teams. My partner and I won third place. The prize was a Star Wars pen set.
I kept running into the Falcon Robotics team at various events while I was finishing middle school. Every time I encountered them, there would be an additional attraction for me to want to join their team. When it came down to deciding what high school I would attend, I had four choices to choose from. My top two were Xavier Preparatory High School or Carl Hayden Community High school. Although I had gotten accepted to Xavier, I had already decided to go to Carl Hayden based off of the students’ enthusiasm on the robotics team. I wanted to soar like the Falcons. My mom was leaning towards Xavier because of the higher academic rigor, but Xavier just did not click for me. I wanted to be with the Falcon Robotics students who were not afraid to express their smart abilities while still enjoying it. By now, I was so familiar with Mr. Lajvardi that my mom and I called him Fredi.
During my Freshman year, I was learning how to solder, strip wires, and flush cut electrical equipment and to shape my abilities to fundraise. I started to analyze other robotic teams as they participated in regionals across the U.S. as a scouter for our team. By the end of my Freshman year, I got to go with the team on our trip to Championships in St. Louis because I had proven to be a valuable scouter. I encouraged the team to pick Team Plasma as an alliance partner. We ended up winning the Arizona regional! As the months went by, I had learned how to look at the bigger picture. It was not about the robots, it was about the people.
Being elected as Treasurer at the end of my Sophomore year gave me experience on how to manage money and learn responsibility. This was also the time when the movie Spare Parts, the documentary Underwater Dreams and the book Spare Parts came out. All of these were about the four undocumented students who beat MIT in an underwater robotics competition back in 2004. The story shows how people can achieve their dreams and do the impossible. This is what FIRST robotics is about. This is why I was attracted to the Falcon Robotics team. Now I get to carry the baton and spread the message that you can do anything you want to do and only you can decide if it will happen or not. You cannot let society or public perceptions tell you what you can or cannot achieve.
I hope that what I do is an inspiration to others like the team has been an inspiration to me and to people around the world. I hope when I have children that I can pass on what I have learned by being a part of the Falcon Robotics team and FIRST Robotics. I also hope that my kids can join the Falcon Robotics team so they can experience what I experienced. As Dean and Woodie would always say “It’s not about the robot!” it’s about learning how to work with people and solve problems to make the world a better place. I plan on doing my part to make this happen.