ESS: Robotics helps student overcome anxiety

October 30, 2018 Staff Writer

She is in a league of her own. Jamie Geng is one of the most talented students to walk through the doors of Westview High in San Diego.

“It’s pretty rarified air,” Poway Unified School District career education specialist Joe Austin said. “I can honestly say when I talk about Jamie that there’s no question she’s the top 1 percent of the students I’ve worked with. And that’s 25 years of high school graduates.”

She’s an AP student. She’s a musician. But she might be most proud of her time as president of the robotics team.

“I’ve got these gears turning in my brain and it’s the most incredible thing to take something from your head, put it on a piece of paper, and put it on a piece of metal,” Jamie said. “And then put a motor on it and see it run. Because that came from you. That came from your mind. Your hands. And it’s incredible.”

In her role as president, Jamie oversaw a group of more than 80 students which forced her to come out of her shell.

“Jamie was incredibly shy,” Westview High robotics advisor Dawn Hester said. “I mean, incredibly shy. To then see her overcome those challenges and be able to lead a team. Jamie is the best student leader I’ve worked with in all of my years. And then to see what she does with difficult information and how easy she makes it. How she processes it. And how she comes up with these ideas that I didn’t think of.”

Given all of her accolades, it’s no surprise she was accepted to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I’ve dreamed about going to MIT since I was seven,” Jamie said. “And just looking at what people at MIT have done for humanity. I just could imagine myself going there and now that it’s a reality, I’m incredibly excited about this opportunity.”

But there was a time where that dream was in doubt. During her sophomore year at Westview High, Jamie suffered from crippling anxiety attacks.

“I started really questioning myself about, ‘Am I really good at anything?’” Jamie said. “And that led to me just beating myself up for every mistake I made. The worst they would get was I would sit down on the floor and just curl up in a ball because I couldn’t move. My limbs would freeze up. I couldn’t breathe.”

Austin notes it’s important for schools to emphasize the importance of mental health and hopes students like Jamie will lead to more awareness.

“There are students like Jamie everywhere. Every school. Every walk of life. Every district. It’s not part of your student profile. We don’t have a read on whether kids have gotten the support they need to be mentally healthy. And that anxiety and particularly in a pressure cooker academic environment.”

Over time, Jamie says she learned to look at the world in a healthier way. Her newfound sense of gratitude is evident as she looks forward to the next chapter in her life.

“Anxiety is not being weak,” Jamie said. “It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. It’s hard for me to talk about because I feel so lucky that I’m able to come out on the other side of something that could have completely derailed me,” she said. “I’m still not even 100 percent sure how I got to this point. But I’m glad that I’m here.”

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