PARIS — COVID-19 may have changed how students are able to approach their education, but almost a year after the virus shut down schools and continues to plague in-person learning, Oxford Hills Technical School student Thomasina Lester remains in firm control of hers.

Thomasina Lester holds one of the many robots she has built as a preengineering student at Oxford Hills Technical School in Paris. Submitted photo

It helps that her education has been in a variety of settings and that she has worked part time her junior and senior years for an online tutoring company, Fiveable.

“I became a teacher’s assistant with Fiveable after using it for my own exam prep for AP exams,” Lester, of South Paris, said during a Zoom conversation. “I used to study for my AP world history exam at the end of my sophomore year.

“Then I applied to be a content creator in 2019 and I worked on that for a number of months. Over that summer I became a content intern and created content for AP exams and for fellow students.

“This past semester I’ve been working as teacher assistant in U.S. history. I work with a course teacher to help students online and teach the course. This spring semester I’m working to provide curative resources for students and I tutor as well.”

Lester credits Fiveable with giving her tools to attend school online through a pandemic. She was familiar with Zoom technology before it became a necessity and already had a comfort level with working remotely.

“It’s a unique skill,” she said. “A lot of people weren’t introduced to it until the pandemic and I think those skills have helped me. It’s definitely a different environment.”

Exposure to other types of learning when she was younger have also helped Lester deal with hybrid and remote education models. She was home-schooled for three years starting in fifth grade and spent her freshman year attending the magnet/STEM School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone.

And after three years in Oxford Hills Technical School’s preengineering program, she is ready for the next chapter in her academic career. Lester was recently granted early decision enrollment at Columbia University in New York. There, her studies will be focused on the business aspect of engineering.

She has years of engineering experience. She was drawn to it from her days in kindergarten. By third grade she decided she wanted to be an electrical engineer.

“My first engineering project was in fifth grade, when I was home-schooled,” Lester recalled. “It had an electrical approach. I had a bread board and using LED and wires, I built simple systems. It started me thinking about engineering and problem-solving and those sorts of skills.

“I’ve always loved math and science, they are my favorite classes. I have an analytical approach to life – it’s who I am and engineering aligns with that,” she said.

Transferring to Oxford Hills for her sophomore year, Lester was introduced to OHTS’ preengineering progream. There, her interests expanded to robotics.

“My first preengineering project was around robotics,” she said. “That was my introduction to in-class engineering. We moved through a few different pursuits, but robotics was the most interesting to me. It incorporates different electrical aspects, and you need that analytical approach especially to program the robot.”

In school, Lester builds robots from kits. And she applies new programs to them to challenge herself.

“The kits come with instruction manuals but I kind of take it further than that,” she said. “I’ll create a task for myself and work to achieve it. You can take it beyond what the kit is.

“Right now I’m working on a robot that will follow another. They are the same type, but they’ll follow each other. I’m taking the obstacle avoidance code and reversing it to be a following code. The robots are meant to avoid objects, but these will be programmed to follow, or track the other.”

Thomasina Lester of South Paris will continue her engineering studies at Columbia University in New York next fall. Submitted photo

When she unplugs from technology, Lester enjoys reading literature and history, but science is never far away. One book she particularly enjoyed reading in school was Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

“[Recently in] my lit class, we read ‘Frankenstein,’” she said. “I really enjoyed that. It’s a classic that I hadn’t read before and it’s really interesting to see how Mary Shelley provides commentary on our society that is still relevant today. There’s also reference to science and ethics.”

Lester also enjoys U.S. history and the social awareness gained from it.

“I read “How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis,” she said. “He was a muckraker during the progressive era. His book provides insight about tenement housing and how immigrants lived during that time. It’s a difficult read but it’s insightful into the time period and to journalism at that time. It’s relevant today.”

Lester is involved in a number of volunteer and club activities as well. She serves as a Viking Mentor – guiding a group of freshmen through their first year of high school. She also volunteered at the Paris Public Library until COVID-19 restrictions came along.

She represents the western region with SkillsUSA Maine and is chapter president of the National Honor Society where she is leading fundraising for Responsible Pet Care, running monthly meetings and organizing donation drives to benefit the Paris shelter. Her long list of activities includes the National Technical Honor Society, Oxford Hills’ math team, astronomy club, French club and gardening club.

Lester looks forward to moving to New York later this year and tackling new engineering challenges.

“In college I’d like to look at the business approach of engineering,” she said. “Look at systems within companies, examine them and determine how to make them more efficient and cost-effective. To better them.

“I don’t have a specific type of field I want to focus on yet. Moving to New York, I’ll be able to look at more opportunities,” she said.


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