Mountlake Terrace resident Meg Isohata was recognized recently as a Washington STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Rising Star in the organization’s Snohomish Region.
“I actually didn’t find out that I was even nominated until I got the email that I won,” said the 16-year-old Isohata, who is a junior at Edmonds Heights K-12 and active on the school’s robotics team. “It’s really nice to have my efforts within STEM being recognized and it’s really great to have another platform to speak about what I do.”
“It’s been pretty cool,” she said of the award, which came with a $500 prize, a certificate and also “a swag bag of items.” Isohata reported using a portion of the prize money to buy a new school bag and saving the rest, which she will likely also put toward her education.
School counselor Emily Pool said when she learned of the award’s existence, Isohata immediately came to mind for nomination. “I’ve always been impressed by her thoughtfulness about looking towards the future,” Pool said, adding that Ishohata consistently demonstrates qualities of leadership and is driven in her efforts to help others succeed.
“She’s an intrepid learner — she’s amazing,” said Cathy Webb, who recently retired but continues to volunteer with the Edmonds Heights’ robotics team, of which Isohata has been a member since middle school. “I just feel like Meg is a superlative candidate for these kinds of awards and I think that she is a real role model.”
Webb noted that the school’s robotics team has typically been predominantly male, and when Isohata first joined she was “quiet, very shy, didn’t speak a lot. In the time that she’s been on the team she’s become a respected robotics builder, she’s a programmer, she has run the business team and collaborates with all of her teammates, she was unanimously selected for team captain last year and again this year.”
Webb said that Isohata has personally organized many of the outreach events that the team has held, adding, “in fact, they were recognized at state (finals) last year for their outreach efforts.”
Those activities included food drives to collect canned items and gift cards to support teens during the pandemic and a series of women in STEM workshops featuring female professionals from the field as guest speakers.
Both Pool and Webb agreed that Isohata utilizes her education and various interests to initiate efforts that are inclusive and help other people.
Pool said Isohata “is a humble, kind, generous and incredibly intelligent individual. She’s connected the robotics team to community work that she’s passionate about and kind of created a win-win.”
Webb added that Isohata is “fiercely competitive” and “not unwilling to do anything that needs to be done — and I admire her greatly. She’s organized park cleanups and beach cleanups and she’s now in Running Start, taking very high-level classes.” In her academic studies, Isohata “is at the top of her class, she continues to strive for other experiences and she’s been investigating other learning opportunities,” Webb said.
Washington STEM is a statewide education nonprofit organization focused on removing barriers and creating equitable access to STEM pathways for historically underserved students. It collaborates with 11 regional networks across the state to bring educators, business leaders, STEM professionals and community leaders together to build student success and connect them with local STEM career opportunities.
This was the first year of the awards and one student from each of the network’s 11 regions was acknowledged as a rising star in a virtual ceremony presented by Kaiser Permanente. The leadership awards celebrate girls who embrace their STEM education inside and outside the classroom while exploring its uses in ways that will support their education, career and personal growth along with serving the needs of others.
Isohata’s award notes, “Meg was selected as the Snohomish Region Rising Star for her strong and determined leadership of the award winning ‘Atomic Robots’ FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team. Meg not only captained the team but also participated nearly every aspect of the project, from design and construction tasks to service and outreach projects. She hopes to continue the work she began in FIRST Robotics by pursuing a STEM career in computer science or engineering,” and “wants to become a FIRST coach and mentor so she can help others experience the benefits of STEM.”
Isohata developed an interest in STEM pursuits after attending summer camps for computer coding, which also introduced her to robotics competitions. She has been on the Edmonds Heights’ robotics team 3805 Atomic Robotics since middle school and served as team captain both last and this year. The 3805 Atomic Robotics is a First Tech Challenge (FTC) team, which is part of the First program — a global program for students grades 7-12 to compete in a robot-building challenge.
As captain, “I oversee everything that’s going on with the team,” she noted, “but my main personal interests lie within building (the robot itself) and also business where I help with fundraising, organizing different local community outreach events spreading STEM to different populations and our school. Especially outreach has been a great passion of mine.”
Webb said Isohata “approaches the world with, ‘I can do this,’ and she brings kids along with her. She encourages new (team) members to be part of the (robot) build, and she encourages the veteran members to teach and to help the new members as well.”
Isohata said she’s looking forward to the team’s upcoming season of competitions and hopes it can advance to the FTC World Championships in Houston scheduled for next spring. The 3805 Atomic Robotics team won two third-place awards at last season’s Washington state championships, which typically would qualify for the Worlds competition, but the event was canceled due to the pandemic.
Each year’s games have a different theme featuring tasks to be completed within a limited amount of time by the robots each team designs and builds. This season, competitors will be challenged to transport items using their robots and involves tasks such as picking up balls, cubes and even rubber ducks in order to then deliver them successfully to an unsteady surface.
Isohata said besides learning the math and technical skills used in designing and building robots, participating with the team has also helped her to develop leadership and communication skills. “It’s really great to see people discover STEM for the first time and really get hands-on experience and one of the things I’m most passionate about is getting more women and other underrepresented populations into STEM,” she added.
That drive led her to start a speaker series that invites women who are professionals in STEM fields to speak to middle and high school girls about their experiences and also provide advice. “That’s been a really rewarding workshop series and effort,” Isohata said. “A lot of the people who have attended have said it’s been really great for them and they’ve learned so much from it.”
“It’s been really nice to have so many people who support me,” Isohata continued, “like my parents and my robotics coaches, because without them what I do wouldn’t be possible and so I’m just really grateful for them.”
Webb said Isohata is “the kind of woman that we need to get involved in STEM areas and spotlight that women are capable — and she is extremely capable. She is a very big picture thinker and she definitely is inclusive.”
Isohata noted, “My dream job would be working somewhere where I can be creative and have the freedom to explore different ideas and experiment and test different things and also help bring STEM to more people – that’s my biggest passion.”
— By Nathan Blackwell