This week our Senior Spotlight is on Gino Zhang. We caught up with this young, driven engineer to talk about his passion for robotics, dreams of space exploration, and how AISG helped him to connect all of the dots.
We heard you were part of the very beginnings of the AISG Robotics Program
Yeah, when I was in 7th grade we started the first robotics team here at AISG. It was also my first year at AISG. I had just come from a local school here in Guangzhou and it was such a great change, especially because of the extra-curricular opportunities. I had the chance to learn how to do so many things and feel that the school and the environment here really helped me to search and explore different aspirations.
What was it like to be a part of starting the Robotics Program?
Well actually the first year was pretty rough, and so was the first year of high school robotics in 10th grade. We were sort of the robot guinea pigs and started off as a very small community - just about ten of us. We competed in one single local tournament and actually got wrecked pretty hard. In the second year (8th grade) we were much more interested and passionate about it and spent so much more time researching different mechanisms and programming and we actually got first place in an international school tournament in Hangzhou and second place at a tournament in Shanghai. I think those two tournaments are what really started the Middle School Robotics Program that you see now.
Just like the middle school program, Mr. Jacobsen helped us to start the high school program when we got to 11th grade. He was able to pull together so many resources that by senior year we had our own robotics room on campus, a field to practice on, and all the materials we would need throughout the year organized waiting for us when the school year started.
Any memorable competition moments?
We were able to compete in the biggest tournament in Asia this past December, the VEX Asian Championships in Macau. We got the chance to compete against over 100 other high school teams and had the incredible honor of winning the THINK Award at the tournament. The THINK Award is based on a lot of different things. There are a lot of criteria that you are assessed on during the tournaments, the main one being the robotics competition itself, but beyond that teams are assessed on their engineering notebooks, the design of the robot, if your robot can be fully autonomous or not (computer driven), how well your robot can be controlled by a driver, and a short interview from a judge. The THINK Award is sort of a representation of all of those together. Because this was our first year competing in VEX Robotics, we really focused on self-reflection. Taking note of what went wrong, focusing on how we are going to improve in the future, and how we are going to maximize the efficiency of the robot. I think we won because of our clear and organized thought process and unique approach to robot design, strategy, and programming which was all shown in our detailed 70-page engineering notebook.
Would you have been so interested in engineering if you had not joined the AISG Robotics Program?
I think it definitely helped me a lot to explore my interests. Before High School, I would build some small stuff like model remote control cars and drones but it was High School Robotics that gave me the opportunity to take my interest to another level. Especially this year, our senior year, we put so much time and energy into our robots and had so much passion for our projects. We even voluntarily stayed extra late on campus at least 3 days a week. We knew that when we started out this year we were not at the same level as our competitors and that there was so much work and exploration that we needed to do ourselves. After having this experience and pushing through all of the challenges I feel even more interested in pursuing this field and now I really know that this is what I want to do in the future. All of my future plans really just build on from this point.
How was being an IB student?
So starting in 12th grade, through the new VEX Robotics program and my IB classes, I was able to apply almost all of my learning to engineering and science, which is awesome. In IB Math, I calculated shortage routes for our team robot's autonomous algorithm, which we actually used in competition. For IB Physics, I built my own electric skateboard and wrote about theories on mass and acceleration. And in IB Chemistry, I was able to work with rockets.
This year, through all of this research and all of these accomplishments I really felt that all of my interests and everything important to me finally came together in my life. AISG and the IB Programme helped me to connect all of the dots and shaped me for what I want to do in the future.
What are some skills that you've learned at AISG that you feel will help you in the future?
High School taught me a lot. Through robotics and the rigorous curriculum, I've learned the most that I've ever learned. But my biggest takeaway is learning how to manipulate resources. This school has really helped me shape that into one of my strengths and I'm really proud of what I am able to do now. Before AISG I would never ask questions in class. I would sort of just be the quiet person in the back, sometimes on task, sometimes off task. Very average. But then, in this school, I got the opportunity to find my interest, to find a future path, and to find a way to stay on that future path. And that is through asking. I can't even count how many times I've been in Mr. Megarity's room, Mr. Seiple's Room, Mr. Timmerman's room, Mr. Jacobsen's room… just by myself on a free period or during lunch to not only talk about academics but about all of my ideas and future goals that I'm planning. I'm not the person who's afraid to ask and share anymore.
I now have experience in searching for opportunities and when the opportunities don't work out I have the chance to go back and look at the other side of things, which just opens up even more resources and paths to go down to help me to reach my final destination. I feel like that is the biggest thing that this school has taught me.
Failing, hitting dead ends, turning around to look back, and finding another way out is something that I've learned here that I'm sure is going to help me in the future. It's something that I'm glad that I have at this age. Every single failure is a valuable lesson you can use to proceed forward.
At the end of 11th grade, I had already decided I didn't want to go to college immediately after senior year. In 9th and 10th grade when we didn’t have a high school robotics team, I was trying a few things out but didn’t have anything specific that I was passionate about or that I felt was worth pursuing. I didn’t like that. My personality is more like I always have a specific goal that I want to reach and once I have that goal set and I've found what I want to do, I will do my best to get there using whatever resources I can get my hands on. In 12th grade, through VEX Robotics and my IB classes, I found that goal and now know exactly what I want to do.
I know that many astronomers, astronauts, and engineers start when they are very young, so I am currently searching for intern opportunities and reaching out to programs like the Canadian Space Agency or Copenhagen Suborbitals, which is a voluntary supergroup that plans to be the first amateur group to launch a human into space. As I continue to look for opportunities, I will fill my time working on projects and continuing my research, ultimately putting all of my experience in engineering and science together to create a complete story that will lead me to my next step.
When I do begin university, I plan on majoring in aerospace engineering. I'm confident that this is something that I want to continue pursuing for the rest of my life. Just as I did here at AISG, I want to use college as an opportunity to learn as much as I can, further pursue my interests, and get me closer to my dream.
Favorite Memory at AISG?
I feel like this is going to get a lot of hate but… EE (Extended Essay).
Ever since I was young I've always been interested in rockets but as I got older that interest in space exploration sort of just hid deep down inside of me. It was always there and I have been feeding it through learning about engineering and robotics but it didn't come back into the forefront of my mind until the summer before senior year. After doing a lot of research and thinking about what to do for my Extended Essay it finally hit me… Rockets! All of that hidden interest in space and rockets that I've always had suddenly poured out of me like a waterfall. I was overwhelmed with interest and passion and knew that I had found a goal for myself. For my EE, I launched over 30 model rockets during test trials on the field here on campus. I was also able to make my own 30-meter long rail and 3D printed bottle holder to compare different alcohols as rocket fuel.
The EE brought me closer to my dream of becoming an astronaut or an engineer building rockets. The dream still seems like a long ways away but I will continue down that path until I get there and I'm absolutely certain about that.
Congratulations to all of our Senior Rams who graduated yesterday during the 2019 AISG Graduation Ceremony! Click "Read more" below to watch the live stream recording of the beautiful ceremony.