Student of the Week: Nevin Gilbert
April 5, 2019
Nevin Gilbert may still be a few weeks away from his high school graduation but the future engineer already has the resume of a seasoned professional. Between a demanding robotics internship and a collaboration with a CU professor, the Niwot High student’s precocious talent for math and computer science has created opportunities not afforded to most college students, let alone those still in secondary school.
Later this month, Gilbert will get a chance to add another achievement to the growing list when his competitive robotics team, Up-A-Creek, makes their return to the FIRST Robotics Championship in Houston. In 2018, the team placed third overall there, and has a good chance to top that in 2019. Gilbert is now in his second year as software lead for Up-A-Creek, and another of his precocious talents has played a key role in its transformation from a competitive team to a dominant one, according to computer science teacher Teresa Ewing, faculty advisor to the organization.
“Nevin's real skill is collaboration - patiently and carefully listening to the strategy and mechanical students, converting their needs into a working software specification, and then prioritizing the work that needs to be done. It's very unusual to see that ability in a high school student.”
It’s an ability that took some time to emerge, Gilbert admitted.
“Last year was the first year taking the lead with the whole software thing, and it was my first year really being engaged with the team,” he said. “The summer before, I learned a lot, but I basically jumped in and did a lot of the work by myself last season. There were a couple of nights that I was in working until four in the morning at our headquarters by myself. It was a different type of experience, but I wouldn’t say it was a great example of leadership.”
He focused on changing that ahead of the 2019 season, and was more mindful about delegating to Up-A-Creek’s younger members. So far, he has been pleased with the results, and not just because it helped Up-A-Creek win two regional championships last month.
“I guess technically my job is to teach all these new students, but seeing that was actually happening and seeing people inspired and finding new passions was definitely one of the most gratifying things about this season.”
Gilbert is no stranger to discovering new passions, and credits Up-A-Creek Robotics for helping to develop one for programming and, later, for electrical and computer engineering. He got a taste of the latter as a summer intern for local start-up Left Hand Robotics, which is headed by Up-A-Creek mentor Terry Olkin, and allowed Gilbert to “get my hands dirty and apply my interests to real-world problems.”
“It’s probably one of my favorite things I’ve done in high school,” he said. “You get a really cool and really unique personal experience and make a lot of amazing connections with all of these super intelligent people. Last summer I worked on some stuff involving GPS connection software and path computing software...it’s been a really sweet experience, and added a lot to my resume.”
When he’s not working with the robotics team, Gilbert splits his time between Niwot High, where he’s taking a combination of AP and IB classes, and CU, where he is taking courses in discrete mathematics through St. Vrain’s concurrent enrollment program. Earlier this year, he was offered an opportunity by assistant CU mathematics professor William DeMeo to work on a research project investigating Lean, “an open source theorem prover and programming language being developed at Microsoft Research.”
Gilbert is planning to pursue robotics professionally, and is currently deciding between the engineering programs at Georgia Tech and Michigan. He occasionally takes a break from his technical pursuits for snowboarding, and has also enjoyed Up-A-Creek’s outreach and community events, especially summer camps and Lego robotics leagues, where he has a chance to interact with elementary age students.
However, the future engineer finds it hard to stay away from the activity that has assumed such an outsized role in his life.
“I started doing FIRST Robotics, and that really helped me find my true passion for robotics and software development….It’s super awesome that the district supports a program like that, and I’m super grateful for those connections that it offers.”