From singing to coding, Mass. Institute of Technology admit does it all

When she isn’t programming robots, CHS senior Abby Lambert is likely performing onstage or fine-tuning her martial arts skills in preparation for her black belt exam in July.

Working and volunteering for the Naval Postgraduate School, Lambert toiled away full time last summer and part time earlier this year to successfully code software for underwater autonomous vehicles, using sensor data to help the vehicle navigate a path. She also worked incessantly to chip away at a software development capable of piecing together segments of recorded video to create a photo mosaic.

“I was going to write software that would place each tile in the right spot.” She admits, “It was really hard, and I am still working on it.”

Additionally, Lambert has played the trombone in the Carmel High concert band, become heavily involved with the Singer-Songwriters’ Guild and is the lead singer of Flannel, a band comprised of herself and four other CHS students.

“To see, for the first time, [our] daughter grab the mic with both hands and wail has been [a] big takeaway,” her father, Dave, says.

With this degree and wide range of talent, it is hard to believe that upon reflecting on her high school career, Lambert recalls a time when she struggled to find a group in which she truly fit, admitting that the past four years have done much to help her grow her confidence.

“I had a lot of social issues my freshman and sophomore year, while trying to navigate my way through old friend groups and new friend groups,” Lambert notes.

Searching for a stable environment, she stumbled upon programming. Lambert began a form of coding at the age of 9, when she decided to create and design a website to publicize a comic strip she had illustrated with a friend.

“It kind of just stuck, and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do forever,” notes Lambert, who began fully pursuing her passion for programming in high school when she joined the Carmel High School robotics team, Team 2035.

Joining the team as a freshman, Lambert was initially interested in the coding aspect of the club, although she had had minimal exposure to Java, the main coding language the team used, beforehand, says robotics adviser and AP Computer Science teacher Tom Clifford.

“She just sort of picked [Java] up based on what we needed to do,” Clifford remarks.

Eager to add to her list of coding and programming skills, Lambert became determined to enroll in AP Computer Science as a sophomore for the 2014-2015 school year, despite the fact that at the time no sophomores were permitted to take the class.

“That just wasn’t going to work for her,” Clifford recollects.

Persistent in her efforts, Lambert enrolled in the class and performed well, reenrolling her junior and senior years to continue developing her own programs, such as a music player application she designed earlier this year, Clifford reveals.

But computer science only scratches the surface of Lambert’s capabilities, as she decided her senior year to dually enroll in AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC, both taught by math teacher Mike Deckelmann, who feels confident that Lambert will earn a perfect score of 5 on each exam.

“No one puts more pressure on her, I’m sure, than she does on herself,” Deckelmann says of Lambert, “which is—probably in any field or endeavor in life—the key to being good at what you do. She’s [also] just a good human being,” the math teacher emphasizes. “Mention that.”

Lambert’s talents stretch far beyond the classroom, given that she is the current president and lead programmer of Team 2035 and has spent the last few years engaging in outreach programs by teaching programming classes and workshops to CHS students, as well as students from Santa Catalina School, Salinas High and local elementary and middle schools, according to robotics adviser Paul McFarlin.

“She has been there every step of the way,” McFarlin adds. “She is…the heart and soul of the team.”

In December 2016, Lambert learned that she had been granted acceptance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she will major in Course 6-2, essentially electrical engineering with an emphasis on computer science.

Counselor Darren Johnston explains the full significance of this feat, noting that she is the first female and second student overall to be admitted to MIT in the history of the current counseling department, dating back more than a decade.

“When I first started really talking with Abby, she was already on it,” Johnston recalls of Lambert’s accumulation of an impressive profile by the second semester of her junior year. “[Now] she can be in an environment where she is surrounded by equally talented and equally motivated people.”

Clifford reveres the dedication Lambert has shown both inside and outside the robotics program, praising the fact that she never abandons her goals.

“The word that comes to mind, for me, is tenacious,” he says. “A lot of kids get frustrated…and throw up their hands, wave a white flag and walk away. And that’s not her.”

Fellow senior and robotics team member Jack Brewer admires the grace and charisma with which Lambert leads the team, acknowledging that she makes extensive efforts to include all team members and drops everything when a fellow teammate needs help.

”Everyone knows Abby for her genius and work ethic, but only those who are around her every day can understand her kindness and drive for what she loves,” Brewer explains. “Abby has all the tools to not only be one of the smartest kids at MIT, but also one of the kindest.”

Given all her past accomplishments, Lambert looks excitedly to the future, having high hopes for her experience to come at MIT this fall.

“I’m ready to kind of dive into a new environment where no one has known each other since kindergarten,” she exclaims. ”I’m excited to find my niche.”

-Melissa Pavloff