Thank You FIRST for the Honor!!

Thank you FIRST and Dean Kamen for this stupendous honor and wonderful weekend. I visited your home, DEKA, your company, FIRST headquarters, had lunch and dinner with you, toured MIT, spoke with the Dean of YALE Engineering and above all made new friends who share my intense drive and passion for robotics. Through FIRST, I found a place where I fit in, where I could be authentically me, where I could fail and yet succeed. For that I am eternally grateful.

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Hot off the presses -- My Eye to Eye "Spring Into Greatness" national campaign video!!

As promised, here is my Eye to Eye “Spring Into Greatness” national campaign video. It is being shown all over the United States. It has received a tremendously positive response. I did the Eye to Eye mentoring program when I was in 8th grade at Urbana Middle School. My mentors were University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students with learning differences. I had just left my private school where they refused to allow me to use accommodations to access the curriculum and show mastery. I was being bullied by red marks and comments of ignorance. I was losing my love for learning. This is also the point at which I skipped another grade. My first encounters with public schooling were as an 11-year-old different thinking 8th grader that the teachers had no idea what to do with. Eye to Eye showed me what community is like without judgment, without stigma. I was able to shed my shame and hold my head up and transform my self-doubt into empowerment. My Eye to Eye mentors helped me find my voice and I haven’t stopped using it since. They helped me feel comfortable about starting high school at age 12 and speaking up about what advanced classes I wanted to take and how I needed to do things to be successful and show mastery. They helped me build a sound foundation of self-advocacy that has served me well throughout high school. Thank you, Eye to Eye for providing different thinkers, like me, a blueprint for self-advocacy and empowerment to harness our strengths. Thank you, Ryan Klump, from Concept One Video, Chicago, IL for the fabulous final videos. I really need to find out what editing software your team uses. I remember the different scenes we did for the video. Your transitions are so smooth and flawless. Thank you, God, for directing my steps and always giving me exactly what I need exactly when I need it.

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Look Out Rose -- Here I Come!!

SURPRISE!!! We were informed at closing ceremonies that every participant who successfully completed Operation Catapult, applies, is accepted for admission, and matriculates will receive their $2,500 program fee back and then they will receive a $2,500 scholarship for each quarter and it will be renewable for each of the 4 years. That is a 300% return on investment over one year. In other words, when I am accepted for admission and matriculate I will have earned a $40,000 dollar scholarship. Look out Rose, Here I come!!!

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Truly Honored!!

I am honored I was chosen for the coveted Future Counselor Award, given to one girl and one boy participant who exemplifies most the Rose spirit, like an MVP award. This was given to me at closing ceremonies in the presence of my mom and dad. I have never felt so "gotten", at home, able to be me and thoroughly joyful at an educational institution before in my life. I really did not want to leave. And now, I know for certain I want to go back for my BS in mechanical engineering.

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I Still Got It!!

Of course, there was a talent show...I always demonstrate my Taekwondo nunchucks, this time with a twist. One of my counselors, Rachel, was fascinated by my tricks and wanted to learn. She caught on fast and so we did a routine together for the talent show. This is us trying to remember that routine and demo it for my mom and dad before departure.

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Operation Catapult @ Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

I appreciated that we got to choose from a variety of projects based on our personal interests and yet we were challenged to try something new and different. Before I arrived, I was convinced I would do a mechanical engineering project but I took up the challenge and decided to do something completely new. I had already done hovercrafts, computer programming, robotics and many of the other projects. But, I had not worked in a chemistry lab so I chose chemical engineering. My team, Mandy and Josh, and I researched and figured out how to combine the various chemicals we had available to us to make sparklers. How befitting, as the 4th of July is upon us. It was fun and challenging and in the end, with much perseverance, we got them to work and demoed them at closing ceremonies.

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Life-Affirming!!

I have spent the last 2 weeks at Operation Catapult at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and it has been life-affirming. After 15 years, I have found my tribe. I have never been to a school that I felt was built for me, where the teachers got me, were eager to allow me to do things my way, excited to see what I could do, where the students understood me, embraced me, allowed me to be me, were like-minded and spoke the same nerd language, a place where the staff was at the ready for whatever I needed to be successful, often making changes and suggestions based on having gotten to know me rather than waiting for me to come and ask. Thank you, God, for steering me to the right place and helping me see and feel that I am ready for the next step on my life's journey. Everyone, please pray for my admission and funding for the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

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Can I deposit this check?

I was surprised at the Illinois 4-H Robotics Championship when I was presented with a life-size $1000 check for winning the 2019 National Youth Science Day Challenge for greatest impact for hosting 14 1-day computer programming exposure events at 5 different venues for 8 different organizations impacting 138 underrepresented youth and creating 14 mentors. I can scratch this one off my bucket list—I always wondered what it would feel like to get one of those life-size check. Awesome—that’s how!! Now, to cash it!!

On the same day, I surprised Keith Jacobs Jr. with his Prudential trophy for nominating me for the honor. Thank you Margaret Marcus of Prudential for coming out, bring the trophy, and presenting it with me.

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Unforgetable!! 2019 Top 10 Youth Volunteer in US

Thank you Prudential Spirit of Community and NASSP for this magnanimous honor. The awards weekend was truly memorable. It was a pleasure to meet all the other state honorees and their parents, the wonderful, supportive staff at both Prudential and NASSP and to be able to participate in such an extensive, heart-felt celebratory weekend. The tour of DC monuments, river boat cruise, Gala at the Smithsonian Natural history Museum with keynote speaker Viola Davis and National Awards Ceremony at Union station, to mention just a few of the festivities, were stupendous.

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Honored to be Keynote Speaker, Reach Your Destination 8th Grade Teen Conference

This was my first paid speaking engagement. It was exhilarating. I spoke to approximately 250 8th graders from Carbondale who are transitioning from middle to high school. Following, I put on a Robotics workshop at the Carbondale Boys & Girls Club. It was my pleasure to tell them that no matter what has happened in the past they have a opportunity to begin again and make their journey what they want it to be. My speech was entitled “Embrace Your Journey & Try to Change the World”

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Aja Capel
Thank You FIRST!!!

I am overwhelmed to have won the pinnacle individual FIRST robotics award. Thank you to my mom and dad, my coaches, especially Shawn Mathew of Caterpillar, my mentors and all of my teammates for all of your support, encouragement, and hard work. I am excited I will be spending time with Dean Kamen and my fellow Dean’s List winners at the Dean’s List Summit in New Hampshire in July.

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