South Orangetown Central School District

Dowland Aiello, software subteam lead for Tappan Zee High School’s FIRST Robotics Competition team, SO BOTZ, was named a Dean’s List Award Finalist during the New York-Canada regional competition in May. The Dean’s List Award, which is the top individual honor for participants, recognizes student leaders who have led their teams and communities to increased awareness of FIRST and its mission while achieving personal technical expertise. Applicants are nominated by their teams and interviewed by judges. Finalists advance to the June 26 virtual World competition, when winners will be announced.

“This year was different because we were completely remote and the challenges were game-related, rather than robotics-related. Our biggest concerns were getting people involved and being able to perform despite not having that hands-on experience,” said Aiello. “Our team was much smaller, but those that were here were intensely committed to what we were doing which I was really impressed by. They see our team as an investment.”

Aiello’s own investment over the past two years prompted the team to nominate him for FRC recognition. He is the second SO BOTZ member to be named a Dean’s List Award Finalist in the team’s four-year history; both were software subteam leads.

“As a ninth-grader, Dowland’s role was to write successful vision processing code based on what had been started the previous year. He worked collaboratively with other team members, advised them on best practices and jumped in to refactor code when needed. Dowland also developed Rhino drive code on his own to provide our team with an extra option. He earned the respect and admiration of his teammates,” SO BOTZ lead advisor Karen Connell explained. Unfortunately, the 2020 season was canceled before the team had a chance to compete in its first regional last March.

Although the 2021 season was completely virtual, Aiello embraced his role as software subteam lead before and after the competition period. “In the fall, we did a number of training sessions to improve practical things that slowed our subteam down last year. We trained on Github to better support collaboration and on best practices for writing code to make it easier to debug and prototype,” Aiello noted. “Since April, we’ve been working to develop future leadership and held trainings to support that.”

But the sophomore will not be on the SO BOTZ roster next year: Aiello was accepted to the University of Washington Robinson Center for Young Scholars and will enter college as a freshman this fall. “I’ve had a very specific interest in computer science for a long time. I know what I want to do and that’s where I want to focus my time. There are 35 students in the cohort, which is close-knit and supportive, and they are all very passionate about something to which they want to dedicate themselves,” he said. “I’m excited about the prospect of being surrounded by people who are interested in striking up a conversation about something nerdy and technical. It’s the best place for me to keep learning and growing.”

Aiello began writing code in elementary school, when an interest in gaming inspired him to learn how to make his own game. He moved into the District during middle school and became involved with South Orangetown Middle School’s Challenge Lab and the FIRST Lego League robotics team. In high school, Aiello joined SO BOTZ, took computer science coursework, developed independent side projects and began consulting following a software engineering internship last summer. “I’m very thankful for the teachers that I’ve had here. They have been super-nice and have made my time really enjoyable,” he reflected. “In the news and popular culture, there’s this notion that high school can be difficult to navigate, but that wasn’t my experience and I’m thankful for that.”

Congratulations and best of luck, Dowland!

Dean's List Finalist Dowland Aiello