FIRST Robotics inspired Alyssa Garcia ‘21 to pursue engineering

Robotics solidified my career choice. My whole life has been FIRST and robotics. I wouldn't be what I am today without it. There would have been no way I would have known that I liked STEM.”

For Alyssa Garcia ‘21, robotics is part of her DNA. It’s a huge part of who she is as a person.

Her robotics background goes back to age 9, when she was involved in LEGO League. She then moved up to FIRST Robotics in high school and that followed her to Kettering University, where she started in 2016. FIRST and robotics inspired her to study Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.

“I love the atmosphere of FIRST Robotics. It’s the most graciously professional sport I’ve been in,” said Garcia. “My grandpa taught me how to machine when I was in eighth grade. When I got into high school and joined FIRST Robotics I was drawn to the machining aspect. I wanted to learn more. Then we went into design and thought process for everything. Robotics solidified my career choice. My whole life has been FIRST and robotics. I wouldn't be what I am today without it. There would have been no way I would have known that I liked STEM.”

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Garcia is spokesperson for FIRST. She can be seen volunteering at Kettering during district competitions and helping her high school team in Lapeer, Mich.

When she was in high school, Garcia helped start five FIRST LEGO Leagues, two FIRST Tech Challenge teams and one FIRST Robotics teams. At Kettering, she is vice president of the FIRST Alumni Association.

Her involvement with FIRST led to numerous accolades. As a junior in high school Garcia was named World FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List winner, which acknowledged her passion for FIRST and STEM during the FIRST World Championship. As a senior in high school, she received a community scholarship naming her Youth Citizen of the Year because of her FIRST experience and volunteerism. She also received a Kettering FIRST scholarship.

Approximately one-third of Kettering University students participated in robotics programs at the pre-college level. Kettering awards more than 20 Robotics Scholarships annually, each valued at $22,500.

Since 1999, Kettering University has awarded more than $3.5 million to support Robotics students.

After graduating from high school, Garcia knew Kettering was where she wanted to be. The university was very familiar with her because of her participation in many FIRST competitions on campus. She had the opportunity to speak to Kettering students, tour the campus and get a sense of what it would be like to be a Kettering student.

It was exactly what she was looking for.

“I felt Kettering was really for me, especially from the co-op experience and the whole nature of what Kettering stood for,” Garcia said.

When Garcia started her first term at Kettering, skills she had learned from robotics helped her excel in her classes and have a better understanding of the programs.

“I had a CAD class and I was doing some things I learned in robotics and it made my experience so much easier,” she said. “I knew I could do it on my own. It was great to bring that experience to the classroom.”

Garcia never regrets her choice to get involved in robotics at a young age. When in high school she promoted FIRST and robotics to middle school students, especially trying to get more females involved and interested in pursuing STEM careers.

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She continues to be a FIRST mentor and coach elementary robotics teams, while volunteering at events.

“I think it’s something that surprises people, to be involved in robotics and really enjoy it. Anyone can do it. If you can hold a tool in your hand, you can do it,” Garcia said.

Through robotics, Garcia has learned teamwork and how to be a gracious competitor, helping anyone who needed it regardless if they were on another team. She also learned how to act in a professional setting.

And Garcia continues to pursue ambitious goals. One day, she hopes to be an astronaut.

Being a minority female in the STEM field hasn’t always been easy, Garcia said. But she’s been surrounded by people who support her dreams and she hopes she can do the same for others.

“People will always have something to say about it, but I knew I could do it,” Garcia said. “I got really lucky because I started at such a young age. If i can go and show a girl she can do it, if I can drive this robot you can drive this robot, then it’s worth it.”