'Robotics evangelist': two Albuquerque juniors receive top honor - Albuquerque Journal

‘Robotics evangelist’: two Albuquerque juniors receive top honor

Aimee Linebarger, a junior at AIMS, demonstrates the programming of her team’s robot. She’s one of two New Mexico finalists for the “Dean’s List” of the FIRST robotics championship. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)

Robotics, computer science, engineering — Aimee Linebarger can do it all.

And maybe soon, she’ll be recognized for it on an international stage.

Linebarger, an Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science junior, is one of two New Mexico finalists for the “Dean’s List” of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics championship — one of the top accolades a budding robotics aficionado can receive.

The other student, also a junior, is Gray Sherwood of Albuquerque.

Gray Sherwood stands in his team’s robotics shop at Manzano High School on Monday. The 17-year-old, who says he lives and breathes robotics, was selected for one of the top honors an individual can receive this year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)

“I was really happy that I had been chosen as a Dean’s List finalist … because I’ve spent so long working in this program,” Linebarger said. “This is the highest individual honor that you can get, and so I was really excited.”

The championship is in Houston, and is set to begin April 19. Winning would mean getting a letter of recommendation to colleges or employers, a shot at a grant and a paid trip to a summit at the FIRST headquarters in New Hampshire, according to the organization’s website.

Dean’s List finalists like Linebarger don’t necessarily compete in a robotics challenge to be selected as one of the Top 10 in the world, she said. Instead, judges rely on their past accomplishments and letters of recommendation to determine their leadership qualities.

Linebarger has a good track record.

Last summer, she won a gold medal in engineering in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics competition, and took home another gold medal in computer science the year before.

And in last year’s FIRST competition, Linebarger said her team placed in the top 50% of teams.

Linebarger’s been interested in robotics from a young age, getting involved in elementary school. Now, six years down the road, she says she does what she can to impart her experience — she specializes in programming — on others.

“One of the main things that I do is I help other teams a lot, including at competitions,” she said.

But that also extends into her own community. Last summer, Linebarger said she had the idea to develop a summer robotics class for Sandia National Laboratories Black Leadership Committee, an effort she says is aimed at teaching underrepresented student groups about robots.

“It’s important to have more representation and diversity in STEM,” she said.

Gray Sherwood, middle, controls his team’s robot, dubbed “Vroomba” for its shape, at Manzano High School. The robot’s objective is to stack cones on the yellow poles. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ Albuquerque Journal)

‘Robotics evangelist’

Gray Sherwood, described by his coach as a “robotics evangelist,” lives and breathes the sport.

During the height of robotics season, the homeschooled 17-year-old wakes up, cranks out his schoolwork during the morning, and then spends most of the rest of his day in the shop tweaking, tuning and designing mechanisms on his team’s robot.

His team, Enigma 16265, has had a successful career so far, and Sherwood’s been there for most of it.

His team qualified twice over for last year’s world FIRST robotics competition, he said, and placed 41st in their division. In February, the team won an “Inspire” award, which Sherwood described as the highest honor a team can receive.

Sherwood said he hopes his robotics expertise will translate into the real world — his hope is to one day be a mechanical engineer.

That said, he’s also committed to spreading his love for STEM to younger students, using a Lego robotics kit to teach physics, robotics, basic programming and other concepts to students ranging from six to 12 years old.

“He’s exemplary, as a student,” Sherwood’s coach, Russell McCabe, said. “I’ve learned more from him than he’s probably learned from me.”

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