June 8, 2011
NASA is her dream
When Barbara Schloss joined the robotics team at Milken Community High School as a sophomore, she knew she had found her passion.
“It’s so fun,” said Schloss, whose father and grandfather, both of whom work in the aeronautics industry, encouraged her interest in math and science from a young age.
Now that she’s about to graduate, she said, her dream is to continue exploring the fields of engineering and aerospace, eventually working at NASA. And if her time at Milken is any indication, she’s well on her way.
Schloss’ first year on the Milken robotics team was spent learning the ropes, she said. In her senior year, she served as the head of the team, overseeing working groups and leading her peers as they built what she described as the “best robot we’ve ever made” for their third year of participation in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.
Designed to pick up inflatable game pieces and place them on pegs, the robot also deployed a minibot that successfully climbed a pole. Schloss described how her team used pneumatics — “air-powered things,” she patiently explained — and mecanum drives, which are wheels that can move in all directions, to put together a final product that would wow the judges.
It wasn’t the first time she sought to shine a spotlight on the group’s capabilities. As a junior, Schloss turned her formidable energy toward marketing and outreach. She wanted to spread the word, she said, about how easy it can be to set up a robotics program — “NASA does a lot of funding and grants” — and how much it can benefit students. Being part of the group didn’t just help her learn about building robots, she noted — it also taught her how to get people interested in something and recruit a team, as well as technical processes like Web site building, design and programming.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Schloss reached out to City Councilman Paul Koretz and asked him to visit.
“I spent a week and a half drafting an e-mail” to Koretz, she said. The councilman obliged, and came to the school to talk to her team and learn about what they do.
Schloss hopes he’ll be able to help other local schools follow Milken’s lead.
“Not many public schools in L.A. have robotics,” she said, “but it is a great program.”
In addition to her love of mechanics and engineering, Schloss is an accomplished tennis player. Having taken lessons at Beverly Hills Tennis for eight years, she made the Milken varsity girl’s tennis team as a sophomore and was a starting singles player. Her ease in moving between robotics and the tennis court is best described by the general manager of Beverly Hills Tennis, Hally Cohen, who writes in an e-mail about Schloss’ “ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under a minute and then in the same breath smack a forehand going 90 miles per hour.”
When asked about the Rubik’s Cube, Schloss laughed, affirming that she can indeed solve it in less than 60 seconds. “It’s just something to pass the time when you’re bored,” she said.
Next year, Schloss will head off to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was accepted on early action and plans to continue her studies in aeronautics. She’ll leave behind her Milken community, and along with the robotics and tennis teams, she’ll say goodbye to the Traditional Students Club, which she started in order to get to know other Modern Orthodox kids at the school.
But Schloss knows she’s on her way to a place where she’ll have no trouble fitting in.
“I visited the campus and met all these amazing people,” she said of her future alma mater. “Even when I got into other schools, I just realized that MIT is it; that’s the place for me.”