Monday, November 18, 2019

Nikki Panda - This is How I Work

Today we are getting to know Nikki Panda. Nikki has worked with many FRC teams and is an alumna of Team 2016 The Mighty Monkey Wrenches and is currently a mentor for Team 1807, Redbird Robotics. Nikki is well known within the FRC community as being a dedicated emcee and volunteer. Keep reading to learn more about Nikki Panda!

[Responses from November 11, 2019]
Name: Nikki (Panda) Stout
CD Username: musicgurl1329 (I made it in high school. Please forgive me) 
Current Job: Director of Marketing Technology, TAPP Network
Alma Mater/Degree: The College of New Jersey, Bachelor of Arts in Interactive Multimedia (a fancy way to say Video Games), Minor in Women and Gender Studies. Currently enrolled at Drexel University for Nonprofit Management.
Current Team(s): FRC 1807 Redbird Robotics
Former Team(s): FRC Teams 5666 (2017),148 (2016), 1089 (2012 - 2015), and 2016 (2007 - 2011)
Hobbies: Gaming (both board and video games), Weightlifting, Drawing, Mountain Hiking, and Rock Climbing. 
Are you an Alumni?: Yes of FRC 2016. 

What inspired you to do what you do? Tell us a story.
There is not one thing that inspired me to do anything that I have done. When I was first starting out in FIRST, I was not in a good place. I needed a support system and I was fortunate to find that in my mentors, especially in our mentor Rich. He was retired and always encouraged me to not only pursue robotics but also my artistic talents. 

In my senior year, my team and I had a rough start. In September of 2010, we found out my mentor had Stage 4 Cancer. During late October he passed away. I was devastated. By the end of my senior year, I realized I wanted to be there for kids who were like myself and others who were going through difficult times while giving them the space to escape and express themselves freely. I wanted to be the person my mentor Rich was for me. So I became a mentor to 1089 while in college. 

When it comes to volunteering, I tried a few times before I got heavily involved. I feel like I really started when an event needed another Master of Ceremonies in 2015. I figured I could give it another shot and the worse case was that I made sure a new district event was running. I was formally trained by Katie in FMA and the New Brunswick District event. Afterward, I had students come up and they were excited to meet me, I also made a lot of friends that day and between the two things it made me want to keep volunteering. 

What is your day job, and how'd you get there? 
For my day job, I work at a mission-driven Marketing and Technology solutions company. There I run the technology behind how my company markets for our client base. I use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to hold data on our client's customers and potential donors. Through this software, we can send email communication, host blogs, and manage the front ends of the website. Outside of the CRM, I managed webinars and automated emails for some clients. I also do data science. Each month I pull analytics on how people are interacting with our client's online presence and track changes like demographic shifts or what parts of the website are getting more attention. I love seeing how people react to the content we create and then seeing how we can improve on what we do. 

What is your favorite story to tell about robotics? 
I have so many fantastic stories after 14 years in FIRST. I've traveled all over the country and have done so many different competitions however I have a tie for my favorite memory of FIRST. 

This past season, I got to be a Master of Ceremonies at the Detriot Championship, I was so honored to do it and I had a blast every day I got to do it. 

The other memory that comes to mind is the support of my mentors from FRC 2016 had for me when my mentor passed away. That year we went to Ramp Riot, an offseason hosted by 341 Miss Daisy. I was in the pits trying not to think about being at an event without Rich when another mentor Tyler starts to try to sing Katy Perry and dance around our pit. 

I couldn't help but crack up. 

What's your favorite FRC game and why? 
I am terribly biased. My favorite was 2011, Logomotion. I ended up machining our robot which ended up becoming the finalist on Einstein. A close second was last year because of my incredible seniors on 1807 that made last year's build season a blast. 

(NOTE: As of when this was recorded last year was 2019, Destination Deep Space) 

What's the best advice you've ever received?
Pursue what you are passionate about but know you may need to work hard and outside of what your passion is to reach your goals. 

How did you get involved in FIRST?
I found FIRST through a series of unfortunate events within a few months which led to me being pretty depressed. I was fortunate to have a few teachers that really cared about me- particularly the science teacher. To best describe her, she was a real-life Ms. Frizzle, with an Iguana and everything. One day after class she put a flier on my desk for the New Jersey Regional and told me I should go. She said I'd get extra credit if I went and bought 3 things. So I went. 

When I got there I was a bit overwhelmed with what was going on. I was really shy and quite frankly, kind of scared but I saw my hometown team was competing and I knew some of the kids on the team so I talked to them a little bit. After a while I found my friends pushing me to try new things, especially to be the mascot because none of them wanted to do it. I put it on and felt comfortable. I ended up making my way to the mascot pit and quickly became friends with everyone in the suits and costumes. At that point, I was happy for the first time in weeks and I was back to being my goofy self. In that moment I was dancing and cheering on every robot, I just knew I found where I belonged. After that day was over I ended up convincing my dad to take me back the next day. A few months later I was at off-season competitions as an official member. 

What advice would you give to your high school self? 
There is a lot I wish I could have told my younger self. I think out of everything I've experienced since high school I wish I could tell myself to live more. Go and try new things, take extra classes on different subjects, find something different to do each summer so you can have a better understanding of who you are and then you won't have to try to cram it all into the 4 years of college. 

Tell us about a time you failed and learned from it. 
I've had my fair share of failures throughout my life. Most of which are from over-committing myself and then not having the time to get everything done, This happened a lot in college. I am not proud of nearly failing college course(s) but I tried to do everything and just couldn't get it all done.

What advice would you give to your students? 
I struggle with this still in my work life, volunteer life, and personal life: the word 'No' exists for a reason. Please use it. Especially if you need a break or don't want to do something. 

What is the most impactful thing you have learned from robotics? 
For me, it has been problem-solving. Not just figuring out how to play a game but using those skills to help me better understand technical issues at my job along with helping people at work and in my personal life. 

What led you to become a mentor? 
After my one mentor passed away I realized how large of an impact he had on me. As my senior year came to an end I realized I wanted to do what my mentors had for me- to be there and support me. 

Anything else you want people to know about you?
When I am not volunteering for FIRST or am working, I volunteer with Crisis Text Line, an international crisis-intervention text line. Through them, I became a certified short term counselor and help bring people from a heated moment to a cool calm. If you or someone you know is ever in need of emotional help you can reach a person 24 hours a day every day, throughout the US by texting 741741, Canada by texting 686868, and the United Kingdom by texting 85258. 

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