Guiding the next generation

Aysen Malone, a freshman engineering student, mentors a member of one of Rolla High School's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics teams.

Aysen Malone, a freshman engineering student, mentors a member of one of Rolla High School’s FIRST Tech Challenge robotics teams. Photo by Sam O’Keefe

Freshman engineering student and Rolla High School alumna Aysen Malone knows that a strong mentor can leave a lasting impression on a person. Inspired by her first mentor, she returns to Rolla High School twice a week to help support its robotics teams.

The teams compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC), a nationwide robotics competition involving teams of up to 10 students between the ages of 14 and 18 in grades 9-12. Each team designs, builds and programs a robot for a tournament-style competition.

Malone is a three-year veteran of the robotics competition, having joined her sophomore year at Rolla High School.

During Malone’s first year, the Rolla team won the Inspire Award, given to the team that the judges feel embodies the “challenge” of FTC to involve young minds. That award qualified the team for the FTC world championships. Once Malone experienced the fierce competition at a worldwide level, she was hooked on improving the team’s robot.

But she wasn’t always as enthusiastic about the group. Malone credits one of the team’s advisors with getting her fully involved in the competition.

“When I first joined the team, I was shy and kind of intimidated by talking with the other members,” recalls Malone. “But then Philip Allen, one of the team’s mentors, walked up to me and asked me all about what I was interested in and helped introduce me to the team. He was a close friend to everyone on the team and was always willing to go the extra mile to help the students. He is also the main reason I chose to go to Missouri S&T.”


During Malone’s first semester at S&T, Allen, a 1994 mechanical engineering graduate of S&T, died in an automobile accident on Oct. 10, 2014. The shock of losing a beloved mentor to the team was difficult for everyone, including Malone.

In Allen’s memory, she continues his legacy of mentoring young minds interested in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Despite her busy schedule at S&T, where she has a job and is president of the Turkish Student Alliance, Malone insists on visiting the teams as often as she can.

“All the Rolla High School robotics teams like competition,” says Malone. “There isn’t a huge rivalry between the three, but everyone wants to be the best they can be. There is a legacy to continue, but all the teams know they have to earn their way with results.”

She also says she respects all the mentors and advisors who help the teams.

“All of the volunteers work so hard and freely give up their time to help the students, no matter if they have other obligations,” she says. “I will always be grateful for the footsteps that Phil left for me to follow.”

All three Rolla High School teams have qualified for the state championships, which will be held at the Gale Bullman Building on campus Saturday, March 7.

More about the upcoming competition can be found here.

By Peter Ehrhard