Gabriella Lahti was asleep in a chair at the Davis robotics competition when she got a tap on her shoulder. One of her new acquaintances from the NASA Van, a van filled with pristine tools to fix damaged robots during competitions, wanted her help.
The night before, when perusing the van, the CHS junior had struck up conversation with a NASA worker and told him that she welded for the Carmel robotics team. The worker decided to see what Lahti was made of and had her weld a few pieces together. Under his scrutinizing eye, Lahti performed the tasks she was given, and as more of the NASA members asked her to weld increasingly difficult constructions, Lahti kept pace.
Lahti, a transfer student from Washington D.C., has had almost no experience welding. While in auto shop, instructor Paul McFarlin asked Lahti to try welding something and quickly came to realize that she had natural skills. With some brief lessons and encouragement, McFarlin convinced Lahti to join robotics.
Between balancing junior year and an after-school sport, Lahti spends as much time in the shop as she can.
“I go into the shop as soon as I’m done with my sport,” says Lahti, who plays soccer during winter and softball during spring, “and wake up at 9 a.m. on Saturdays to go to the shop and work on the robot.”
Unlike most members of robotics, Lahti has only been on the team for a few months, and although she impressed the NASA employees, Lahti did not expect her encounter to turn into something more.
As the competitions in Davis raged on, the CHS robot remained strong, giving Lahti some free time. Her time was limited, however, because the two NASA employees she had spoken with at the van needed her assistance.
Many robots were getting bumped up during competitions and the two NASA employees did not have enough manpower to fix them all. Because of Lahti’s exceptional welding abilities, the NASA employees sought out her help, and the junior ended up spending the next half hour rebuilding an opposing team’s robot.
“I’ve never seen the NASA members pull out any student like they did with Gaby,” McFarlin says. “Ever.”
Not only did the NASA members use Lahti’s aid, when her work was finished, they gave Lahti their email addresses and invited her to come out to Moffett Field for a week to check out their state-of-the-art shop. In addition, they gave Lahti the phone number of the man who funds the NASA Van and runs the competitions.
“It may open doors for Gaby if she wants to be an engineer or something down the road,” McFarlin adds. “She already knows NASA guys.”
Other than welding at a camp in eighth grade, Lahti had had almost no experience with robotics or welding before coming to CHS.
“It’s definitely an experience,” Lahti says. “It’s awesome to be able to say that you’ve welded with NASA people. Maybe I’ll be able to get an internship or even a job with them in the future.”
Lahti is hoping to get an internship welding sculptures this summer and learning the finesse of a new type of welding. Although she is unsure what she wants to major in college, Lahti will pursue her work on the robotics team and follow up with NASA throughout high school.
Gaby Lahti can next been seen in action April 3-5 at the robotics tournament at San Jose State University.