Curiosity, creativity inspire engineering student

Holt-170PULLMAN, Wash. – At the age of 9, Haily Holt got her first tool kit: “My dad wanted me to build anything and everything I wanted,” she said. “It was in his shop that I grew to love working with my hands and building things.”

Now she works more in circuits and computer programs than wood and metal, but the curiosity that started as a child has evolved into many successes for the junior electrical engineering student. Since starting at WSU in 2010, she has been a teaching assistant and lab manager, held two internships and participated in several clubs – including her current position as president of the RoboSub Club.

“Haily brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to everything she does,” said Matthew E. Taylor, club advisor and assistant professor in computer science. Holt is also participating in the new Robotics Club that started this year in conjunction with the opening of the Intelligent Robot Learning Lab.

Networks and teamwork

She attributes her engineering success to connections made with people in the College of Engineering and Architecture.

“I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply to SEL (Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories of Pullman) and other internships if not for my professors’ encouragement,” she said. “And I wouldn’t have known about RoboSub if I hadn’t been working alongside last year’s club president at SEL.”

She started working as a software engineer at SEL in May and became president of RoboSub two months later.

She reorganized the team so it operates more like a company. Students are on project teams based on their majors, but they also provide feedback and do design and code reviews of the other teams. The entire group also has cross-learning days to gain understanding of the overall project.

Motivating the next generation

Beyond building an unmanned submarine for the international competition in July, the RoboSub team and Holt are inspiring a younger generation of engineers.

Holt, center left, at a RoboSub demonstration for young people.

In January, the team did a presentation for about 80 children 9-14 years old who competed in the FIRST LEGO League championship at University of Idaho. Holt fielded questions and encouraged them to continue pursuing robotics.

“Seeing all of those kids so inspired and passionate about robotics was awesome,” she said. “One young girl came up to me afterward asking if there were different age levels for RoboSub, because she thought it was so cool she wanted to be part of it too.”

Future on the cutting edge

Looking ahead, Holt wants to continue diversifying her education experience. In January she became a member of the Harold Frank Institute for Entrepreneurship, engineering and business students who learn entrepreneurial skills and put together business plans for new companies.

Over the summer she will continue her internship at SEL, and she plans to graduate in May 2015.

She dreams of working for a company like Google X – the section of Google that works on cutting edge technology like the Google car and Google Glass.

“New technology is what really amazes me – the idea of creating something that hasn’t been created or even imagined yet,” she said, smiling widely.

She may be older, but when she talks about the future of technology, the curiosity of that 9 year old shines in her eyes.