East West

There are many parts in the process of engineering, from raw ideas to collecting resources to quality assurance, but none are as important as the people – in particular, the people who are the catalysts of the development. They are the ones that weave the parts of the process into an integrated whole, lead the charge, and bring up the rear – truly the heart of a team. For NoMythic, our beloved mentor Kelli Aellen has taken that role by exemplifying the methods of focused work, group commitment, and proactive communication that our team strives towards. 

Five years ago I sat with the rest of our rookie CAD team, eagerly awaiting our first lesson from our new mentor, Kelli. Everyone was excited; it was the first time we had a trained engineer as our mentor, and she was going to teach us how to use Solidworks – a tool we had only dreamed of using! After a quick round of introductions, we got started, and it was immediately clear that working with Kelli would be different than any other lessons we had had because she was, in a word, present. As we worked through terminology, her full focus was on our understanding of the subject, in making sure everyone, from the energetic to the reserved, was included in the learning. After moving on to some basic shapes, a passionate dispute arose about the best way to make a box. Kelli quickly stepped in, asking us to take turns and hear each other out. She told us we needed to find a solution together. Finishing up the lesson, we discussed how we wanted to proceed with practices, and Kelli quickly offered to supervise students outside of regular hours to continue practicing. We left that night with a goal of a fully CAD-ed robot and a plan to get there. When build season began that year, CAD crew was ready. 3 weeks later our digital robot was complete for the first time. 

In the following years, Kelli’s impact on our students only increased. She helped found our “Unicorn Families,” groups where mentors and students meet over dinner to check in about life outside of robotics. By setting up workshops and inviting in mentors from Minnetronix Medical, Kelli has empowered students to learn milling, lathing, and advanced CAD. She inspired NoMythic to improve our own capabilities – working with students to equip our shop with advanced tools. Kelli has shown us how to be inclusive, teaching us strategies to make sure all voices are heard and always watching for those who might be left out. As my final build season draws to a close, I realize why Kelli is so effective at mentoring our team: she leads by example. She has created our CAD team, become a member of our board, actively participated in the St. Paul FRC Hub, and recently became a head referee for first. She has shown and taught our team the traits that make her successful, and in doing so, she has inspired many team members to follow in her path. Kelli is our catalyst.