Standing Out from the Crowd

For thousands of 18- and 19-year-olds like Kelly Carlson, May represents farewells, excitement for new beginnings, and celebration of accomplishments. Kelly, a PLTW student at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Arizona, is among the many seniors who will graduate this month. Though she will wear a traditional cap and gown like her fellow classmates, Kelly will stand out in her own way.

We first learned about Kelly on Twitter and knew that there was more to her story than 140 characters. We reached out and asked her to share her story, with no word limit.

Freshman Year

I started taking PLTW Engineering my freshman year of high school. Although freshmen were still at a junior high school, I was determined to take the Introduction to Engineering Design class taught by Mr. Kellis. So, every morning I went to the high school with my older brother and then walked to the junior high to take my regular six classes. I have since taken Digital Electronics and Principles of Engineering and am currently completing Engineering Design and Development, my capstone course. 

First Female

In May I will graduate with the honor of being the first female to complete all four years of a Project Lead The Way program in the entire Mesa Public School District, the largest school district in Arizona. Although it is an accomplishment, it is also a little sad. In the past four years, I have worked with my robotics team to help promote PLTW throughout the school district, and this year we had the most number of girls in the engineering program than ever before.

The Project

An exciting project I was able to do was work with my classmate, Luke Ehrke, to build a robot to promote anti-tobacco in teens. This was part of my Engineering Design and Development class. We were contacted from a marketing company who works with the Arizona Department of Health. Luke and I had input and ran the discussion for the majority of the planning stages. We presented ideas to the marketing company and the Arizona Department of Health, and the final design was taken from our idea.

The robot was designed to throw Frisbees into scoring zones ten feet away. Safety measures included building a track to keep the robot from going wild and having bumpers on the robot. The final robot was built in the time frame of three weeks by not only Luke and I, but a handful of robotics team members. The robot used pneumatics, electronics, and the application of many simple machines – all things we learned about in the PLTW classes. We also worked with our school's welding department to make components and the school's drama department to design the scoring zone for the Frisbees. 

Big Day

"Take Aim Against Tobacco" was showcased at the Arizona State Capital on "Kick Butts Day." Attendees included state legislature, local activists, and the general public. The robot attracted a lot of attention from local media and certainly helped generate awareness for the cause. My favorite part of showcasing the robot was seeing the faces of the children – and even adults – score Frisbees! Everyone enjoyed themselves and it was a great way to kick off the project. The robot will continue traveling all over the state of Arizona to promote anti-tobacco to students and the public. 

Unique Experience

Being a part of this project allowed me to become an activist for a worthy cause in addition to providing a "real world" engineering experience. Project Lead The Way has allowed me to interview and work with real engineering professionals. The experiences I have gained from the engineering classes I have taken through PLTW are unlike anything I have been able to experience in a traditional classroom experience!