This story easily could have been about the Stanford Robotic Club and its latest exciting, breakthrough project being developed on The Farm.
But it’s not.
This piece is about the fascinating journey of Eric Smalls, the project lead of Ikescopter.
The Ikescopter is drone technology used for the powers of good, to eradicate growling, empty stomachs on the campus of Stanford University, one smartphone-toting student at a time.
The project brings together robotics, aeronautics, and tons of chunky multi-platform programming and integration.
As I read through the Stanford article, I thought to myself, this is awesome. I’m going to write about Ike’s today and was ready to line up the interviews. Clearly, I’m a big fan of Ike Shehadeh and his quirky named sandwiches.
So I quickly Googled “eric smalls stanford university ikescopter” and yielded six hits.
I clicked on the third result, Eric Smalls’ blog, and began to unravel an even more captivating story.
As Eric poetically cites on his blog:
“Adversity is like a slingshot; it will pull and stretch you to your limits, but if you hold on, you will be propelled to heights far greater than you ever imagined.”
You see, Eric’s journey is what my journalist husband calls a “hidden gem.”
Originally from North Philadelphia, Eric Smalls is a freshman at Stanford University who grew up dreaming about space explorations at a very young age.
Eric’s hopes and aspirations were inspired by NASA as he dreamt of a career in building robots.
All these dreams seemed to come to a halt when his mother passed away from breast cancer when he was three years old.
Homeless for months and living paycheck to paycheck, his widowed father did his best to provide for Eric and his younger sister.
Forced to live out of a car, the family survived on two dollars a day for food.
Percolate on that for a minute or two.
Three people. One adult and two kids, living off on $2, for the entire day.
Some of us know that same feeling growing up hungry way too well.
I know my parents made a lot of sacrifices just to make sure my siblings and I were able to eat that day or attend school.
That’s what responsible parents do. They sacrifice.
With fears vividly impacting his dreams, Eric knew he had to do something about his future. He knew he had to make a change.
His determination motivated him to move in with his grandmother in Philadelphia. Another loving pioneer in his life, she made sure that he attended a good school.
Eric’s grandmother enrolled him at Roxbrough High School, where only about two in 100 of the student population were considered mentally gifted. Motivated to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a scientist, Eric decided to contact a teacher he met after moving to Philadelphia during his junior year in high school.
He decided to e-mail Mr. Koehler, a teacher who ran the robotics club at the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science (HSES), in Philly’s Center City. Koehler recognized Eric’s passion and encouraged him to participate in his classes, even sending him home with a LEGO robotics kit after their initial meeting.
Despite the long trek on two buses and a train from Roxbrough High, Eric fueled his passion for robotics and space-designing robots every Tuesday and Thursday in Mr. Koehler’s class.
In 2011, he transferred to HSES to complete his senior year and was elected President of the robotics club.
Eager to becoming a 21st century scientist and engineer, he researched what colleges are likely to get him closer to achieving his dream.
Stanford University was, of course, on the top list. He later found out about QuestBridge, a non-profit organization focused on assisting low-income students through leadership, mentorship and friendship at QuestBridge partner colleges.
Through Stanford’s Common Application and Supplement and QuestBridge’s National College Match program, Eric decided to submit his application.
In his blog, Eric details how most of the Stanford application process was different from the other college applications he’s seen. Stanford actually cared about his personal story. Eric then focused on explaining the challenges he faced, his ability to overcome all the hardships he experienced and his tireless perseverance.
Six months pass and no response on his Stanford application. By April 2012, still no word. After many excruciating months of waiting, he finally received an e-mail with the much anticipated subject line, “Your Stanford Admission Decision.”
By then, he realized that if the word “congratulations” wasn’t included in the first paragraph, let alone in the first few lines, that he did NOT get accepted at Stanford.
Eric nervously opened the e-mail and saw the coveted word on the first line. ‘CONGRATULATIONS!” One week later, he received his admission package from Stanford. Within the acceptance letter was a quote:
“We applaud you…for all the times you stayed up late to get it right; practiced, rehearsed, and gave it your all; studied something because you loved it, not because it would be on the test; took a risk instead of following the easy path; volunteered your time, talent and energy.”
In September 2012, Eric wrote a touching letter to President Barack Obama, thanking him for the STEM initiatives. It was through this program that Eric found his calling. Not only that, Eric became President of the robotics club at HSES. Talk about destiny.
The eloquently written ‘Dear Mr. President’ letter not only encapsulated the hardships Eric endured growing up, his achievements and where he is today, but also highlighted the importance of President Obama’s efforts in doubling the Pell grants to make college more affordable to students like him.
The video created by President Obama’s team was published on October 26, 2012.
The first in his family to go to college, Eric finally gets a chance to get closer to his lifetime goal.
Not only is Eric a freshman at Stanford and QuestBridge Scholar, he is also the Founder & President of the Stanford Robotics Club, a student-run robotics and mechatronics club.
So far, he has managed to raise over $10,000 since he founded the club in October 2012.
The moral of this story is this. Never give up on your dreams, no matter how difficult it may be.
Eric must love Ike Shehadeh’s sandwiches too, because when SFBay spoke to Ike to confirm his knowledge about this Stanford project, Ike candidly shared:
“I didn’t even know anything about this project. I just got an e-mail with the link to the story. I think it’s great.”
SFBay also reached out to Eric and he commented:
“We are still working on developing it and would be obliged to show you when we have the first tangible iteration.”