Passions and learning collide for Tahoma High grad

A high school interest in robotics has turned into a career path for Tahoma High graduate Sean Messenger, one he hopes to continue to build on as a Robert Day Scholar.

A high school interest in robotics has turned into a career path for Tahoma High graduate Sean Messenger, one he hopes to continue to build on as a Robert Day Scholar.

The Bear Metal robotics club at Tahoma was a launching pad for Messenger, who will start his junior year at Harvey Mudd College in Southern California in the fall. He is pursuing a double major in engineering and computer science. The college specializes in math, science and engineering degrees with a liberal arts twist. It is a part of The Claremont Colleges – an association of five undergraduate liberal arts colleges and two graduate schools.

The Robert Day Scholars program is offered by the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance at Claremont McKenna College, one of the partner schools. The program for students attending one of the five undergraduate schools focuses on preparing students to be leaders in business, government, finance and nonprofits.

“What we (the scholars) all get through the Robert Day School that most students don’t get to,” Messenger said in a phone interview. “They’re masters level courses.”

Approximately 40 students were selected to be Robert Day Scholars in the class of 2015.

While at Tahoma, Messenger was also president of the school’s math team, Mu Alpha Theta, coached by teacher Malinda Shirley. Shirley met Messenger when he was in eighth grade and watched him grow in his academic and leadership skills throughout his high school years, as well as his determination.

“It is easy to lead when everything is going smoothly, but Sean was able to ride the waves of tough times and not be distracted by momentary setbacks,” Shirley wrote in an email interview. “He led with his heart and his mind — what a wonderful combination of characteristics!”

Shirley also described Messenger as inquisitive, talented, and committed.

“He continued to stretch the limit and show me and others how capable he was,” Shirley wrote. “His word is good — when he says he will do something, he sees it through to the end.”

Messenger stayed in Southern California this summer to continue to pursue his passion, namely robotics. He’s working as a student researcher in a lab, helping to design robots that can go into locations, like caves, that humans can’t get into.

“I want to go into some field of robotics — so either research and development or application,” Messenger said.

Messenger has also worked in the machine shop at Harvey Mudd, spent a summer as a design engineering intern and has continued to be involved in FIRST Robotics in California. The same organization affiliated with Bear Metal.

In addition to access to higher level classes, the scholars also have access to the Robert Day Schools’ advisors and networking opportunities.

Messenger described being named as a scholar as, “an honorary award to get into a really nice academic track.”

One of the things Messenger has enjoyed most about studying at Harvey Mudd is the hands-on learning, small class sizes, and the opportunities for getting involved in the research happening on campus.

“Harvey Mudd is very small and there are a lot of benefits that come with that, most notably the student to faculty ratio,” Messenger said. “The research opportunities during the summer are (for) undergraduates…. I knew I wanted to do something during the summer rather than be a lab monkey.”

Messenger said he believes that being a Robert Day Scholar in addition to his regular studies at Harvey Mudd will help prepare him to be a leader in the field by helping him gain a greater understanding of the big picture of economics and how it affects peoples’ lives.

“Everyone mentioned that it (Harvey Mudd) was a great place to go to study, and all this is true I’ve discovered,” Messenger said of his first two years of college.

Messenger gives a lot of credit to Tahoma for helping him find his interest in math and science, and of course, his interest in robotics.

“To me Harvey Mudd is Tahoma, but on steroids,” Messenger said. “Everyone is here because they want to learn and it is definitely reminiscent of my time in AP (Advanced Placement) courses (at Tahoma).”

Harvey Mudd has been a continuation of the idea of not learning what to think and the black and white answers to questions, but rather, how to learn and how to use what you do know to solve problems.

“The most valuable thing I’ve developed so far would be how to learn,” Messenger said. “We’re not really here to learn stuff that we’ll learn in industry or in internships…. It’s more we’re learning how to learn stuff and apply it later.”