The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Meet Sophia Eckinger, robotics whiz and leader extraordinaire

Courtesy Raj Virginkar
Sophia Eckinger is the 2023-2024 season robotics captain, her welcoming personality and passion for success setting the team on a strong course this year.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Team 114 placed 2nd in the 2022 FIRST Robotics World Championship. Team 114 made it to semifinals in the 2022 FIRST Regional Competition.

With the Los Altos High School Robotics Team (Team 114) scoring school-record high placings in their 2022-2023 season, senior Sophia Eckinger plans to continue the upward trajectory – starting as Team 114’s first Hispanic robotics captain.

Right from the get-go, Sophia stood out as a leader. Having joined the team in her sophomore year, she went in knowing one thing: she’s always liked building things. Immediately, she dived headfirst into robotics with a passion for engineering, her work ethic catching the eye of fellow members.

“Sophia committed herself from day one,” Robotics Team member senior Lucy Kralevich said. “She was one of the main robotics members that dedicated a lot of time to the team. She was very ready to learn new things and willing to change her mind to adapt to the situation.”

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Over the years, Sophia has proven her sense of initiative and drive to succeed as a team, making her a highly qualified captain candidate by the end of her junior year.

“When Sophia joined, she was quickly recognized by our leadership team,” Hine said. “More and more people started asking for her name, and later on, she really started getting her hands on the robot and leading discussions. Her ability to stay calm and instruct in stressful situations has helped us handle situations better than in past events.”

Last year, the season ended with the team making it to the semifinals in the FIRST  Robotics Regional Competition — a huge competitive milestone for everyone involved. However, the placement felt bittersweet for some.

“Though we were announced first place winner at the beginning, there was an error in scoring by the judges,” Sophia said. “Mountain View High School’s robotics team took the win, but we still felt robbed in a way. My hope is that Team 114 wins first in the championship this year, and continues excelling in further competition.”

Sophia Eckinger, at the 2022 Idaho FIRST Regional Competition, watches robots compete from outside the ring. (Courtesy Justin Wang)

Having experience as Mechanical Leader on the team during her junior year, a role that necessitates strong leadership and technical skills, Sophia envisions ambitious pursuits for the team this year.

“We have a lot of skill on the team,” Sophia said. “Everyone’s super talented — it’s crazy. My goal is to make sure that everything is run more efficiently and we’re able to go further, since we already know Team 114 has the ability to win.” 

Beyond the skills she brings to the table, Sophia is the first ever Hispanic robotics captain of Team 114.

Hispanic people are typically an underrepresented minority in STEM. In fact, a 2021 Pew Research study revealed that Hispanic workers comprise just 8 percent of the entire STEM workforce. 

“Team 114 has always had some diversity, and I’ve seen more girls step up in leadership roles and heavy machinery that the guys typically do,” Robotics co-Adviser Karen Davis said. “But there’s never been a significant amount of Hispanic members — we would love to lessen that barrier.”

Diversity has always been one of Sophia’s priorities on the team, and her work to help make newer members feel included has been a part of that goal.

“Helping new people fit in is really important to me, because when I joined the team, I didn’t know anyone,” Sophia said. “That happy feeling of being accepted by other members built my confidence and has made me more vocal and empathetic to incoming members.”

Much of the support and kindness Sophia shows comes in the form of mentorship to newer students.

“Not only is she good in the sense of working with people from an emotional level, but also on a technical level,” Robotics co-Adviser Stephen Hine said. “I regularly see her teaching newer students, making sure that people are getting involved.”

Post-graduation, Sophia hopes to pursue a career in engineering — and she’ll always look fondly back on LAHS robotics to credit her start.

“Being a leader in this team has been really influential to me,” Sophia said. “There are so many ways I’ve had to learn how to manage a group, and a lot of skills I’ve learned that I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my life.”

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Aimee Ge
Aimee Ge, Features Editor
Ashley Tumacder
Ashley Tumacder, Staff Writer

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