Alison Palmer’s parents, Betty and Eric, had a different approach to kids and housework. Alison’s dad always felt it was important to have his daughter help him with jobs at home like plumbing, woodworking, and basic electrical repairs. “STEM has always been a part of my life. Because my dad showed me how things worked, Math just clicked”, said Alison. Now, after spending a year as an Americorps VISTA in Richmond City Public Schools, Alison will be leaving for Olin College to pursue her dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.
Starting in 4th grade, Alison became involved in robotics through the FIRST LEGO League. By the time she graduated from high school, she had participated in robotics for 9 years and attended 5 FIRST World Championships. Alison credits her involvement with robotics for not only nurturing her love of Science, Math and Engineering, but also for making her a more confident person. “When I look back, I realize that I was very shy in elementary school. As I became more involved in robotics, I realized that I liked public speaking. That’s a skill that you don’t necessarily associate with STEM-based programs”, said Alison. Her public speaking skills paid off in a big way. She was one of the primary fundraisers for her team at Deep Run High School, receiving her first donation after speaking with Midas Owner Mark Smith while her mom’s car was being repaired. Alison also worked with other FIRST team members in Richmond to draft and lobby for the successfully funded General Assembly bill sb246 that provides funds for STEM-based programs in under-resourced Virginia schools.
Another trait that Alison has discovered is her desire to help people. While most of her friends were getting ready for college, Alison decided to take a bridge year and serve as an Americorps VISTA in Richmond City Public Schools. Working with FIRST Chesapeake and Next Up RVA, Alison was instrumental in the development of STEM enrichment activities for 90+ 6th-8th graders as part of an after school program. “Alison’s love of learning and her dedication to improving the lives of the people around her helped make this pilot program a success,” said Team Outreach and Sustainability Director, Delilah Gilliam. FIRST Robotics founder, Dean Kamen is also one of Alison’s inspirations. “I want to eventually develop something that has a positive impact, like Dean Kamen’s ibot that helps provide more mobility for the disabled,” she said.
Alison will leave Richmond for college this Fall, but the impact from her advocacy and outreach will remain for years to come. Her willingness to share her natural talents and her hard work have truly helped to build tomorrow’s technology leaders.
Click here to see a video featuring Alison and friends at the RVA Makerfest.
Article by: Leighann Scott Boland