FIRST Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Holladay

Nov 07, 2016 Written by Rachel Holladay, FIRST Alum

2017 Spotlight 2

We caught up with FIRST® Alum and Dean’s List Award Winner Rachel Holladay from FIRST Robotics Competition Team 1912; Team Combustion from Slidell, LA.

What’s your favorite FIRST memory? My junior year of high school I mentored two FIRST LEGO League Jr. teams. (Would recommend to everyone!) There weren't a lot of teams so their expo was fairly small. I thought we could contribute to the event so the next year I volunteered my FIRST Robotics Competition team to organize the expo and became the Head of FIRST LEGO League Jr. in Louisiana. Organizing and running a FIRST event, even a half day FIRST LEGO League Jr.Expo, is incredibly tiring (running is quite literal) but definitely one of the coolest, most rewarding things I have done. We were celebrating and encouraging first and second graders to get excited about science! Can you do better? I graduated but the expo continues every year (with a student lead) and I think this year they had 27 FIRST LEGO League Jr.teams! Of all the things I did in FIRST, I'm proud to call that my legacy.

What did you do after becoming a FIRST Alum? I attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA and double major in computer science and robotics.  Shortly after arriving at Carnegie Mellon, I joined the Personal Robotics Lab as an undergraduate researcher, advised by Siddhartha Srinivasa. I am primarily interested in the intersection of motion planning and human robot interaction, with a current focus on constrained planning in task space. Previously I’ve worked on deceptive motion, shared autonomy, robotic gestures and active comparison-based machine learning. During and after my FIRST experience I interned with the Naval Research Lab, Stennis Space Center, MS, where I created the front-end of a website to display biophysical data about the Gulf of Mexico . I also designed and built a prototype ROV based on the SeaPerch program that allows high schoolers to collect data for a climatology model.

You have made and kept great FIRST friends – any advice to current Participants on how to do that? I've been able to keep up with FIRST friends mainly through social media. My university (Carnegie Mellon) has enough FIRST Alumni to fill a regional, so I'm never far from a FIRST friend with similar experiences. Nothing spices up lunch conversation like reminiscing about mecanum wheels. Additionally, by mentoring FRC 3504 Girls of Steel at CarnegieRachel and her lab group Mellon I’ve been able to widen my FIRST friends circle.

That's Rachel in the second row, on the far right, in the black shirt.

She chose this photo of her lab group because “I love the people

and robots that I work with and in many ways, my research lab has

the close-knit tight bonds that FIRST teams also have. It takes a

family to get robots working at any level!”


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