Cornell Engineering undergraduate makes a habit of giving back
Cornell Engineering undergraduate Haley Antoine ’19 is always looking for ways to give back. “Both of my parents modeled the idea of giving back all the time. My dad is in the Navy and my mom put her law career on hold for a while so she could be active in the PTA and help with school activities,” says Antoine. “My high school in San Diego was also big on service learning. One of the best things I did there was a three-day service trip to Skid Row in Los Angeles. It was really eye opening.”
These days, Antoine is 3,000 miles from San Diego, but she is still giving back. Antoine, who is a sophomore in the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering (BME), began looking for ways to make an impact at Cornell and in Ithaca before her first semester was even complete. She saw an announcement sent out by the outreach coordinator for the Cornell chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “It said something like ‘anyone interested in mentoring the Ithaca Code Red Robotics team, come on down.’ So I did.”
Antoine knows a thing or two about robotics competitions. She started a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team at her high school. “My school didn’t have a robotics team and my mom said, ‘just start one.’ I was reluctant because I had never done anything like that. But I stuck with it and it turned out great. Fifty people applied the first year and we could only take 12.” The FIRST Tech Challenge is one of a series of four competitions sponsored by the group called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology—otherwise known as FIRST.
FIRST was started by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989. The group’s website says FIRST exists to “inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs that motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills.”
The FTC team Antoine started at her school made it to the regional championships in both of its first two years of existence. Antoine’s younger sister attended a different high school in the San Diego area. She saw the success Antoine had with her school’s FTC team so she decided to join the FIRST Robotics Competition team at her own school. Of course, Haley acted as an advisor for her sister’s team. “The technology part of FIRST competitions is important, but for me doing STEM outreach, especially to younger girls, is just as valuable,” says Antoine.
As a high school senior, Antoine came to Ithaca for Cornell Days. “I attended Women in Engineering Day with students from the Society of Women Engineers. It was great,” says Antoine. “I also loved the campus. It felt good to see so many women on the Engineering Quad.”
Antoine hit the ground running once she became a student at Cornell. She started mentoring students from Ithaca High School’s Code Red Robotics team, found a studio where she could continue to participate in Irish Dance, and found an undergraduate research position in the lab of entomology professor Nicolas Buchon.
Her original plan was to go to med school and become a doctor, but, says Antoine, “my work in the Buchon Lab has made me see that even if I do go to med school, I also want to continue to do research. I really like problem-solving and figuring stuff out. FIRST gave me my first taste of that approach and now I see it and do it in the lab all the time.”
In addition to her classes, her lab work, her Irish Dance practice, and her mentorship of Code Red Robotics, Antoine has somehow managed to fit several other activities into her days. It should not be surprising that these other activities allow her to give back to the Cornell community. Antoine is a resident assistant in Balch Hall and she is a peer advisor in the ENGR 1050 class for freshmen engineering majors. As if she weren’t busy enough with all of that, she is also earning a minor in English.
“Cornell is great for me,” says Antoine. “I have a whole life outside of engineering, but I also have good friends to do problem sets with. And there are so many ways to give back.”
It should come as no surprise that Antoine’s younger sister will be a freshman at Cornell in the fall.