Naoka Gunawardena, a junior at The Ellis School and a member of the Girls of Steel, a robotics team sponsored by the Field Robotics Center, was one of 10 national winners of Dean’s List honors at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition Championship April 27 in St. Louis.
George Kantor, a systems scientist in the Robotics Institute and adviser to the Girls of Steel, said Gunawardena, of McCandless, has been a leader since the team’s inception in 2010. “Her contributions both as an engineer and as a business person have been central to the team's success,” he said. She also led several educational outreach efforts, including mentoring a FIRST LEGO League robotics team at The Ellis School.
“Naoka’s Dean's List award is the first time a Girls of Steel team member has been recognized at the international level, which is a milestone in which the entire team takes pride,” Kantor added.
More than 10,000 students on 2,546 teams from 17 nations gathered for the robotics competition in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome, where the teams used robots designed to throw Frisbee-like discs to score points.
Criteria for selection of the FIRST Dean's List includes demonstrated leadership and commitment to the ideals of FIRST, technical expertise and passion, and the ability to motivate and lead fellow team members. At the Pittsburgh Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in March, Gunawardena received one of two Dean’s List Finalist Awards, which qualified her to compete for the honor at the St. Louis event.
In addition to a personal trophy and a plaque for The Ellis School, Gunawardena will receive an expenses-paid trip to the FIRST Dean’s List Award Summit in Manchester, N.H.
The Girls of Steel team includes 43 girls from 20 area schools and is supported by the Robotics Institute’s Field Robotics Center and a number of business and foundation sponsors. The Ellis School has more girls on the Girls of Steel team than any other school in the region.