Michelle Grau comes to Nueva from Stanford University, where she graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering. While at Stanford, she concentrated in design and minored in physics with a focus in astronomy, and did engineering education research. Her love of mechanical engineering was sparked through participating on her high school’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, where she also developed her love of mentoring middle school robotics teams. For the past ten years, Michelle has coached and mentored FIRST Lego League (FLL) teams, starting while in high school, then through a club dedicated to teaching robotics to middle school students that she helped found and lead at Stanford, and now in Nueva’s middle school. Michelle started and is the head coach for Nueva’s FRC team as well. She is excited to share her passions for engineering, design thinking, and robotics with Nueva’s students. In her free time, Michelle does gymnastics, aerial silks, sews her own clothes, and loves to read.
1. What does a typical day look like for you?
The fun part about my job is that my days are super varied — one typical day might include teaching two sections of eighth grade, two sections of fifth grade, work with second – eighth graders at lunch recess, then go to the Upper School for a robotics team meeting. But even within that, one section of fifth grade might involve helping some kids with the laser cutter, some with the 3D printer, some with making a motor work, and some with the band saw, so even sections of the same class can be very different!
2. After studying mechanical engineering in school, what made you decide to go into teaching?
When I was 8 years old, my answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was engineer, teacher, astronaut, and gymnast. Turns out, I haven’t changed much — I’m an engineering teacher who does gymnastics and still wants to be an astronaut! I’ve always loved teaching, and when I was in high school I discovered that mentoring middle school robotics teams was my favorite thing to do. While I was in college, I spent all my free time starting and coaching robotics teams (middle and high school), teaching little kids gymnastics, and doing research in an engineering education lab. I love doing engineering, but it turns out that I love teaching it to kids way more — I just didn’t think anyone would pay me to teach engineering to kids as a full-time job, so I was THRILLED to discover that it was actually a job I could have!
3. Who is your role model? Why?
Sally Ride, the first American woman to go to space. I decided I wanted to be an astronaut when I was about 7, and then I did my biography report on her when I was in fourth grade, and she became one of my biggest role models. I was super excited when I got to meet her at a science festival!
4. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
The Galápagos Islands, somewhere I’ve wanted to go since I was 6 and my dad told me about the giant tortoises that live there. More recently, I learned about the marine iguanas that live there, and they are my new spirit animal — I’d love to be able to see them!
5. What is your favorite part of coaching the robotics team?
This is such a hard question, because I love so many things about coaching all of the teams! I did FRC when I was in high school, and it changed my life in so many ways (I could talk for days about that!). One reason that I coach the team now is to try to give more people the same opportunities that I had. I love seeing the same kind of growth in the students that I am coaching that I experienced as a high school student myself, as well as spending time with people who are just as excited about the robotics team as I am!
March 24, 201