FIRST Newsletter - September, 2011 - Suki Berry

Suki Berry ─ A Work of Art in Progress

For some students, FIRST is an outlet for an interest in science and technology. For others, it’s a way to supplement classroom activities. And then there are those for whom FIRST is nothing short of a lifeline. Meet Suki Berry ─ senior at San Dieguito Academy High School in Encinitas, California; budding artist who dabbles in Steampunk; and member of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 2102 “Team Paradox.”

According to Berry, without FIRST, the 17-year-old whose home life has been somewhat unstable, would not be where she is today. Her parents separated at the end of elementary school, but stayed in the same house due to extreme financial difficulty. Because of this, life remained troubled throughout middle school and her first year of high school. Berry says robotics provided a healthy, productive environment during tumultuous times.

Berry admits she was looking for an escape. And, to some extent she found it at school, but needed additional structure, focus, and direction. She got all of that and more from Team Paradox. “When I joined the team I felt like I was part of a shared goal. It made me feel important and also made me feel safe,” says Berry, who is now living with a family she met through FIRST. “They took me in until my family can find another place to be together again. Their kindness is overwhelming,” says Berry, whose family members are currently scattered because their landlord is rebuilding on the property where they lived.

Berry initially joined Team 2102 during her freshman year at San Dieguito for the camaraderie and connection it provided. Although she was eager to learn to weld, the team needed her skills in the arts even more and Berry was happy to comply by designing merchandise and creating logos. Today, she says science and engineering “are the best!” and adds that her teammates are some of the brightest people she’s ever met. “The skills I’ve learned from my engineering friends are incredibly valuable.” 

FIRST is a good fit for the artist whose team has adapted the STEM acronym to better fit their focus: they’ve added an “A” for “art” and modified the acronym from STEM to STEAM. As a member of Team Paradox, Berry has been able to meld the creative side of things ─ like painting, design, and sculpture ─ with more left-brain endeavors such as project management and public relations.

Founded in 2006, Team 2102 is made up of 20 Mentors and 75 students from San Dieguito. In their second year, they won the FRC Team Spirit Award and added a marketing branch to their team’s structure, which is responsible for promoting FIRST in the community, establishing Sponsor relationships, and writing grants. As one of the presidents of the team’s marketing arm, Berry has found yet another outlet for her artistic creativity. In addition to designing, sewing, and printing team merchandise, she helps in the design and development of promotional videos. Berry says that not every team has a marketing branch, but theirs is thriving.

In addition, as part of their community efforts, Berry and her teammates have assisted a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team; created a 13-foot-tall robot for the Encinitas Holiday Parade; and participated in the annual Relay for Life Race in support of breast cancer research.

One of her more memorable moments with FIRST was when Berry’s team received the Engineering Inspiration Award, twice ─ once in 2010 and a second time in 2011. Another memorable moment was when she and three other students were asked to present the FRC Chairman’s Award at the San Diego Regional Competition in 2011.

“Through FIRST I’ve discovered an organization with teachers, Mentors, and parent Volunteers who not only support me, but also challenge me to exceed my own expectations; to reach beyond what I thought possible. I honestly don’t know what my current situation would be if I hadn’t connected with all these wonderful friends.” When asked which Mentors have made the biggest impact on her life, Berry answers resoundingly: “All of them!”

In her “spare” time, Berry further flexes her creative muscles by painting and making costumes, as well as working with Art Wars, a student club that produces spontaneous pieces of art in the community. In addition, Berry, who won the Artist of the Year Award at San Dieguito in 2011, also tutors members of a local improvisational theater group. One of her other interests is Steampunk ─ an art form that creates an alternate persona from a science fiction Victorian era by incorporating modern gadgetry with Victorian materials. For example, last year Berry painted herself like a porcelain doll, donned a traditional corset, and used plywood and a disco-ball motor to create a life-sized wind-up key that turned when she walked, transforming her into a real-life music-box dancer. 

When she graduates from high school next year, Berry hopes to attend CalArts in Valencia, California. Because she is interested in so many different types of art ─ as well as the engineering side of things, thanks to FIRST ─ Berry is undecided about which major to pursue. Given her track record so far, it’s likely Berry’s indecision won’t last long.

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