FIRST Robotics, AIM steered Flint native into engineering

The AIM experience broadened my understanding about myself. I realized that I didn’t have all the skills necessary to achieve success without help.”

As a high school freshman at Flint Northern, Victoria Hills ‘11 didn’t know anything about engineering until an innocent high school crush led her to a lengthy career in FIRST Robotics with Team #322 Flint Inspires Real Engineers (F.I.R.E).

“If he’s doing robotics, then I thought I should try robotics too,” Hills said. “We didn’t work out but that pursuit sparked my interest in something that I never would have tried otherwise.”

Joining Flint F.I.R.E in high school provided Hills with two unique opportunities: first, four years of hands-on mechanical and electrical engineering experience and second, exposure to the multiple paths available to her at Kettering University.

In addition to robotics, Hills also participated in the Academically Interested Minds (AIM) program in the summer of 2006 on Kettering’s campus. AIM is a five-week residential pre-college summer program which began in 1984 and has continued to thrive over the years. The program is designed to augment Kettering's efforts to reach a greater number of multicultural students who have a strong interest in the areas of engineering, math, science and business.

“I built a very strong network of mentors in high school and at Kettering who were helping out with the robotics teams and AIM,” Hills said. “I didn’t want to go too far from Flint and Kettering’s co-op program was also one of the main driving factors for my college decision.”

AIM allowed Hills to experience the overall climate of an engineering education and profession which inspired her to pursue engineering at Kettering. Hills graduated from Kettering in 2011 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and then again in 2015 from Michigan State University with a master’s in Mechanical Engineering. She’s currently a Product Development Ford College Graduate, which is a 32-month rotation program through multiple departments at the Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters of the company.

Throughout her educational and professional experiences, Hills has been thankful for her experiences in AIM because it catalyzed her collegiate career between her junior and senior year of high school.

“I developed study habits early on in AIM that helped me in the program and then again in my senior year of high school,” Hills said. “The AIM experience broadened my understanding about myself. I realized that I didn’t have all the skills necessary to achieve success without help. I went from helping everyone in high school to asking for help from others in AIM which was an invaluable learning experience.”

AIM is an international program that recruits students from Jamaica, The Bahamas, Mexico and other countries beyond the borders of the United States. Hills cherished the cultural learning opportunities that AIM afforded her as for the first time, she worked with high school students from all over the country and world.

“AIM has participants from all over the country. Understanding and respecting different cultures, helped me become well-rounded as a person,” Hills said. “I still have friends from AIM because you develop these lifelong connections as you gain respect and understanding of different cultures.”

Hills recently returned from a trip to The Bahamas where she was visiting a friend that she met nine years ago in the AIM program. The program lasted four weeks but her experiences and relationships from that time continue to grow.

“You get a real college experience,” Hills said. “You get four weeks of real freshman level classes after your junior year of high school. You get the same stress of tests and the social opportunities to make lifelong relationships. The AIM experience is beyond what you can ever expect. I am truly thankful to have had that opportunity.”