FIRST Alumni Spotlight: Naoka Gunawardena

Dec 05, 2016 Written by Naoka Gunawardena FIRST Alum

We caught up with FIRST®Alum Naoka Gunawardena from FIRST Robotics Competition Team 3504; Girls of Steel from Pittsburgh, PA. 

Naoka GunawardenaWhat did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum: Naoka attended Yale University and is studying Mechanical Engineering. She has had a number of Internships with Lavner Camps as a Technology Instructor, and at Dean Kamen’s DEKA Reserch and Development.


What does an average day look like for you at Yale? On any given day, you can find me making the dreaded hike up Yale's "Science Hill" to get to one of my many STEM classes. I will eat lunch with some friends in my residential college dining hall, and then either go to class or to the library to get some work done. After dinner, my suitemates and I will get to talking about our days (usually for longer than we have time for).  If it's a Wednesday, I will spend my night rehearsing with Sur et Veritaal, a South Asian fusion a cappella group who performs mashups of popular Bollywood songs and Western hits.  If it's a Friday, you can find me at the campus radio station hosting a show and playing great music with some friends.


What are your future plans? I am planning on graduating from Yale in 2018 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Right, now I plan on entering the workforce for a few years and then pursuing a graduate degree.  My interests currently lie in the realm of medical device design and the intersection of art and engineering.

Naoka with Dean Kamen

How has your FIRST experience impacted your post-graduation life: I feel like my experience with FIRST has made me a much more confident person inside the classroom and out.  My time on Girls of Steel allowed me to grow as a leader and gain technical and business skills that many people do not get to learn even two or three years into college.  I feel very comfortable speaking up in class or taking the lead on a project because of the level of comfort I felt as a team leader in FIRST.


What is your favorite FIRST memory? My first year on Girls of Steel was also the team's first year in existence.  I have been with the team through many successes, each one more impressive than the last.  However, I think that my favorite memory would be winning our very first award, the Rookie All-Star Award at the Pittsburgh Regional in 2011.  Being recognized as a team that was making a difference made me extremely proud, and it is what kept me engaged and passionate about FIRST throughout my remaining years of high school.


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