Altamont’s Sydney Nielson Scores CenturyLink STEM Excellence Award

Altamont High School 8th grader and CenturyLink STEM Excellence honoree Sydney Nielson (above, center) is as much a STEM star as she is a stellar scholar and student mentor. A straight-A student her entire academic career, Sydney is exceptional in many areas, but her passion for STEM truly stands out—especially against the backdrop of her small, rural community. Sydney was celebrated in full-court NBA style at this week’s Utah Jazz game against the Miami Heat.

Home to about 250 people, Altamont is a tiny Utah town with huge heart at the center of a ranching and farming region with a collective population of around 2,000. Considering that several Utah high schools are home to more than 2,000 students, Sydney’s accomplishments in the areas of computer science and robotics would seem to serve as exceptions to rule. In truth, Sydney’s dedication and involvement in STEM have helped advance Altamont’s schools to the leading edge of VEX robotics.  

“I do robotics to show other people that they can do anything no matter who they are,” Sydney said. “I also love the competition and seeing the robot work like it is supposed to.”

When Sydney was in fourth grade, the middle school robotics team was in dire need of someone who could lead a research project.  She didn’t hesitate in stepping up to the challenge, completing the project while surpassing expectations. As a fourth grader, she traveled and competed with the middle school team.

From that point on, Sydney was set on STEM.

In the summer before her fifth grade year, she competed in the Google MoonBots program. She won a VEX IQ set as part of the competition, starting her on the VEX robotics path. In fifth grade, she led her school’s VEX IQ team, and their robot went on to sweep multiple tournaments that year, moving on to the State VEX IQ Compeition. Seven awards were offered; Sydney’s team claimed four, including the top-honor VEX IQ Excellence Award—sending them to compete in the VEX IQ Worlds competition.

Her sixth and seventh grade years brought the same sweeping success and showings at the VEX IQ Worlds competition; her seventh grade VEX IQ robot and engineering notebook won the design challenge at state, one of very few robots scoring in every possible category. During her seventh grade year, Sydney also competed on her high school’s inaugural VEX robotics team. Her skills and experience steered the development and design of the team’s engineering notebook to success, with the Altamont High School team advancing to the state’s VEX Robotics Championship in their debut year.

Sydney’s current team has the highest robot skills score in the state, and her robot is the product of advanced design techniques she learned through hands-on STEM over the previous four years. Sydney codes in RobotC language, and is excited to be learning C++.

And it doesn’t end with VEX for Sydney, who has served leadership roles in STEM summer camps, helping other students succeed in robotics. “I just do what I love,” Sydney added. “I think that’s the key to life.”

Congratulations, Sydney, on your many wins—here’s to your continued STEM success!

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