Frantically, I opened my 10th Chromebook. Locked. I started sweating.

Hello everyone, find a seat and we’ll get started soon.

That is if I could find a working computer. The organizer for the class I was teaching assured me the classrooms would have computers, but they all required a student login. I was teaching computer-aided design at the University of San Diego STEAM Academy to approximately 100 middle and high school students. Those students were streaming in, and to add to the chaos, I had to simultaneously coordinate with my team to set up the class next door. I never even noticed that Angelique had slipped into the classroom.

Finally, the Chromebook worked, and everything went according to plan. I volunteered to teach at the STEAM Academy three times per week over the month of July because I am passionate about technology that benefits society. I am also determined to promote equitable access to STEM education. As I have developed my personal engineering skills through the years, I have realized the importance of expanding mentorship and access to STEM opportunities. My journey as a passionate robotics scholar with a love for mathematics was ignited in seventh grade when I applied a linear function to a robotics problem. For the first time, I witnessed how math can solve problems in daily life.

Engineering a Brighter Future

Rohan Bosworth at the International Science and Engineering Fair where he received a first award in the category of Robotics and Intelligent Machines from the U.S. Air Force.

In high school, calculus provided me with a set of mathematical tools that transformed every difficult problem into a fascinating puzzle that I became excited to solve. In seeking challenging, real-world problems, I discovered my greatest challenge yet: redefining the fundamental way a robot follows a trajectory. I set out to design an algorithm that would allow a robot to follow a curved path around obstacles, better than the current standard method. For months, I brainstormed but couldn’t figure out a solution until one day, I considered a driver rounding a curved road, purposefully steering to predict future conditions. Viewing a human driver from a mathematical lens, I realized that the driver doesn’t aim toward the road directly in front of them but the road some distance away. Transforming this into an equation that geometrically defined the road, the car, and the angle at which the wheel was turned, I then used Newton’s Method, a topic I learned in calculus, to calculate the angle of the wheel, the basis of my creation, PathFinder.

An algorithm I originally created to solve a problem I faced while programming my FIRST robotics robot, PathFinder, I soon realized, could apply to autonomous cars. At my math teacher’s suggestion, I submitted my algorithm to the local science fair in the mathematics division and subsequently the International Science and Engineering Fair, where I received a Best in Category from the U.S. Air Force. Since then, I’ve come to trust my innovation, and I’ve realized that math is my creative tool that allows me to help solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, ranging from supporting doctors worldwide with an online COVID-19 patient risk assessment calculator to developing an algorithm that could one day help make autonomous cars universal.

However, my trajectory to exploring my passion for robotics programming would not have been possible without Jon Christopher, or “Coach Jon.” Coach Jon spent hours supporting my growth in robotics and inspired years of my continuous scientific inquiry. As such, I often feel how lucky I was to connect with an inspiring mentor who helped me to discover my passion at a young age. Coach Jon helped generate my personal belief in mentorship and inspired my current dedication to supporting the STEM passions of others.

Passion for Education

In ninth grade, I became aware of the disparity in access to STEM education while teaching robotics in schools all over San Diego. When I learned that Cristo Rey San Diego High School, which would serve only students living below the federal poverty line, was opening in 2020, I was determined to pass on the STEM knowledge I’ve been fortunate to obtain by forming a robotics club on its campus.

The pandemic left the first club meetings with sparse membership. For weeks, I would routinely sign onto Zoom and wait 30 minutes for someone to log on. When we returned to campus the next year, I met with students as they were leaving campus. I discovered that the students at this school had after-school responsibilities, such as employment or taking care of younger siblings, that precluded them from staying after school to join our club, which was now in person. Still, I persisted for three years, ultimately convincing numerous members to join.

For my efforts in expanding an empowering education, I was honored with an NHS scholarship. While it was an honor to be recognized at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., I am most grateful for the opportunities to connect with student and education leaders from across the country.

To make a greater impact, I reached out to nonprofit organizations like the Elementary Institute of Science and the University of San Diego STEAM Academy to teach computer-aided design, programming, and robotics to students from low-income families in San Diego. To date, my hands-on curriculum has reached over 1,000 students, including hundreds of elementary school students.

Among everything I’ve worked on, I was most fulfilled when I noticed Angelique, a Cristo Rey robotics club member, at my second year of the STEAM Academy. I never mentioned that I’d be teaching there, and just the week prior I’d read the Cristo Rey newsletter where she described her intention to pursue an engineering major because of the robotics club. She’d be the first in her family to attend college. When I looked up and saw her in the class, my heart smiled.

Legacy of Service

Given how the robotics club impacted the students at Cristo Rey, I was inspired to make a global impact. In high school, I connected with schools in Peru, Paraguay, Bangladesh, and Benin to provide robotics opportunities and education to underserved students. Collaborating with educators in Paraguay, I hosted the first-ever in-person FIRST Tech Challenge scrimmage in South America. The students were so excited by the robotics opportunity that I also helped form the first-ever FIRST Tech Challenge team in Paraguay, Team JakareBot. Recently, I began virtually teaching programming to girls in Afghanistan who were banned from attending school and computer-aided design to refugee students from Ukraine impacted by war.

To reach even more students, I have partnered with local legislators in San Diego including Councilmember Raul Campillo and Supervisor Nora Vargas. We are currently seeking to make STEM a part of the core curriculum in all San Diego schools. Collaborating with officials in school districts across San Diego County will enable us to create the greatest impact in the most underserved communities in San Diego.

Recognizing the empowering nature of education, I’ve also helped promote education closer to home. In my senior year, when I was National Honor Society (NHS) president, I initiated the first-ever student-run tutoring program at my high school, Poway High School. As the only campus-wide tutoring program, the initiative I started has grown to provide resources for all subjects.

For my efforts in expanding an empowering education, I was honored with an NHS scholarship. While it was an honor to be recognized at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., I am most grateful for the opportunities to connect with student and education leaders from across the country. I’m also extremely proud of receiving the FIRST Dean’s List Award, which is presented to the top 0.015% of students in the FIRST Tech Challenge for their leadership.

I am honored to be recognized for my efforts, but I am most proud of working with students like Angelique. STEM fields have some of the most rapidly growing career opportunities today, and I want young people to know that STEM offers some of the most rewarding careers, enabling engineers to make positive change through technology.

Just as students are exposed to humanities, the sciences, and mathematics, they also deserve to be exposed to engineering. As I discovered in my journey—and as I hope Angelique discovers in hers—students may not realize their passion for engineering without exposure to the subject in grade school. I believe through continued advocacy, initiatives, and dedication to better education, we can seek a brighter future for students and for society. Angelique’s journey reflects the impact I’ve always hoped for: to teach others that a STEM career is exciting, fulfilling, and within their grasp.

Rohan Bosworth is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a graduate of Poway High School in Poway, CA. He is a 2023 NHS Scholarship Finalist.