Sammantha Firestone’s Story – How Differential Equations Taught Me Self-Discipline

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Sammantha Firestone STEAM Boston
Sammantha Firestone (pictured in the third seat), Photo Courtesy of STEAM Boston LLC

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Sammantha Firestone (Sammy for short). I graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2017 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve always been an advocate for life-long learning, so I’m continually pushing myself to get uncomfortable and learn something I don’t know. This can be something technical like learning Python or artsy like picking-up knitting.

What was your journey to get to where you are today?

In high school, I took a bunch of AP courses and graduated in the top ten percent of my class. With that Honors degree under my belt, I decided to go to Wentworth Institute of Technology for a degree in Electronic Engineering Technology. After doing a full-year at Wentworth and spending a pretty penny in expenses, I realized that being a technician is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be more involved with the design, which is what brought me to the major I graduated with EE (Electrical Engineering). Despite the cost and some tears, I am thrilled that I made that change early. A new major with new classes made me optimistic, but little did I know what was to come…

So once in my new major, I started getting knees deep into some really tough classes. The most robust class for me? Differential Equations. Or Diffy Qs as most students like to say. The first month of this course was “taught” by a professor who called an integral symbol an “S” and practically promised the whole class A’s. He was so clearly unqualified that I started teaching myself out of the book. But before the entire class got derailed into fake math, the Math Department Head stepped in, to guide our class, and what a relief… Until the first test. I received a ‘C-.’ I always studied hard, but this professor made me study the hardest I ever have. Every single weekend, me and my small group of friends would spend almost all day studying and doing homework for the class.

We would also order pizza and goof around too for sanity sake. I would visit the department head’s office hours and go over anything that didn’t make sense. But for some reason, with every single test I took, my score would get lower, and lower, and lower. Until it was midterm time, and I was losing sleep over whether or not I was going to pass this class. And I want to give a full-disclaimer that this professor was not bad, she just hard — difficult tests, and tough grader. She was excellent at explaining things at a one-to-one level, and she offered many study sessions where the whole class would attend. My brain (and others’ brain) just couldn’t keep up. I can still re-live that midterm in my head because as soon as that test hit my desk, my mind dumped everything it knew about Diffy Qs into the recycling bin and hit EMPTY. This dread washed over me, and I had to fight off tears (unsuccessfully).

There was a protest happening right out the window. The chanting of the protestors just mumbled the whispers of forgotten formulas in my brain. I wanted to be able to do it so badly — be the boss of that midterm and redeem all of my past test failures, but I couldn’t. I walked out of the classroom with other students walking in, wiping away tears. I’m still surprised to say that I passed that class. The whole math department worked together on the final exam, and it was much more comfortable than all the other tests I had in that course. It was not my highest grade, but it was the grade that I was most proud of. I had similar struggles in some other hard classes. Not only that, but it was hard to maintain a work-enough-hours-to-pay-rent-and-eat, and do-enough-schoolwork-to-not-lose-your-scholarship lifestyle.

But I learned so much self-discipline, and how to work hard. These experiences only made me feel more satisfied when I got my degree and the job offer at the company I did three internships at iRobot. iRobot flipped my young engineering brain on its head as I learned to apply the knowledge I had been gaining throughout the 5-years of undergrad (all while having fun!). Thankfully, I’m still with iRobot now as a System Test Engineer, and of course, I’m still growing my skill set, and I’m still working hard.

What advice do you have for the STEAM Boston community?

Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Engineering is a team sport! Every single day, I’m always poking and prodding different team members for information on how things work and if my ideas could be improved on. You’re never dumb for asking questions on things you don’t understand or searching for help when you need it — you’re strong and smart for knowing that you don’t have to do it alone.

What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?

The Charles River Esplanade! Windy, but beautiful for those days you need to go on a long stress-relieving walk.

What is your favorite quote?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

What are some apps, software, or tools you cannot live without?

Apps:

  • Cronometer – I’m a bit of a health nut, and this is great for tracking my macros.
  • Duolingo – I’m trying to pick up Mandarin, and this app helps make my learnings stick.

Software/Tools:

  • Arduino – This was my first love in electrical engineering. This was what enabled me to do my own projects outside of school or work.
  • CAD – Solidworks and CREO both are something I love doing for fun or for rapid prototyping needs.
  • FireAlpaca – A free-drawing application that allows me to exercise the left part of my brain.

Any links/websites/contact info/social media accounts you’d like included in your story article:

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sammantha-firestone/

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