Queens Teen Sees a Future in Robotics

(Photo via Korea Daily)

Juno Lee (Photo via Korea Daily)

A Korean-American girl is getting noticed for taking an active role in the field of robotics, where boys tend to dominate.

Juno Lee, 18, a senior at the Bronx High School of Science, was the winner of last year’s first U.S. national robot championship for her team’s task-performing robot. From there she participated in the World Robot Olympiad held in Sochi, Russia, last November, as one of the U.S. representatives. This September she is heading to the University of Michigan on a full scholarship.

She leads a robotics team of 50 girls from her high school, that does everything from robot design to manufacturing. She is also a project manager at RoboMindTech Education Center, where she writes teaching material for robotics instructors.

In a call with Korea Daily on May 28, Lee’s mother, So-yoon Gong, said, “My husband passed away when Juno was 9 years old and money has been tight so I haven’t been able to send her to a single cram school during high school… Nevertheless, I am just grateful that both Juno and her younger brother (Jason Lee, who attends Stuyvesant High School) have grown up well.”

Gong said she is so proud of, and thankful for, how helpful her children have been by studying hard, even after their father was found dead in Korea, after he went missing during a visit there.

When asked how her children made it into the specialized high schools after both going to public middle school (M.S. 216 in Fresh Meadows, Queens), she said, “They studied on their own. I told my children to sleep, more than I told them to study… I had them learn how to play the piano for eight years, and violin for three, after hearing that learning musical instruments is good for developing creativity. Pretty much all the money I earned from working days and nights at a nail salon has been spent on them.”

Lee said, “I made the most of New York State after-school programs such as SAT prep classes. I think I mastered school and learning by teaching and mentoring students who fell behind in their studies… The idea that men are more advantageous for STEM fields than women should be thrown out. I believe that women’s creativity and meticulous nature will contribute to making a robot that is needed in our daily lives.”

Lee dreams of becoming a robot scientist like Dennis Hong, a leader in robotics who invented CHARLI, the first humanoid robot in the U.S.

Lee said, “I want to establish a company that will design robots that perform certain actions, such as saving a life… While growing up, there were many hard times when I missed my father, but now I believe that he’s looking down on me, and would be happy for me.”

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