Danniell Hu is only a junior at Pioneer High School. So her future isn’t fully mapped out just yet, but what she’s accomplished in the past and what she’s doing in the present should provide a number of different roads to choose from when it’s time to make that trip.
“I would like to go to a school of engineering,” said Danniell, the daughter of Zhe Wu and Biao Hu. “I’m not 100 percent sure where yet, but I love the atmosphere of the Engineering School at the University of Michigan. I plan to study biomedical engineering, combining my interest in the human body and robotics.”
Hu, 16, is currently making the most of her high school experience, and not only with an “excellent” grade-point average. She also is active in a number of groups, including Student Council, National Honor Society, Symphony Orchestra, Coding Club and of Robotics.
And that’s where we will start.
Hu is a member of the Pihi Samurai robotics team at Pioneer which will compete at the FIRST Robotics World Competition April 25-28 at Cobo Center. FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.
“Robotics didn’t come naturally to me when I was younger,” she says. “Both my parents are researchers at U-M (one studies breast cancer and the other works in the Kellogg Eye Center), so when I was younger, I wanted to work in a lab as well. This is where my love for the biological sciences stems from.”
As Hu got older she fell in love with gaming. It started with games on a PC. “When my computer broke repeatedly, it required me to understand how the computer worked and how to fix it,” she said. “I was intrigued by how the computer ran software, how a tangle of wires managed to power a metal box. After wondering about it, I decided to take initiative and learn more about it myself.”
She began by taking apart computers in her basement and then putting them back together for fun. She also started coding small little games of her own in her free time.
“That’s when I realized that I loved to build and create, and I loved the feeling of satisfaction after I successfully completed a hard task,” she said. “When I hit high school, and the robotics team at Pioneer was advertised to me during freshman orientation, I was immediately hooked. It sounded like the exact place where I could learn and build to my heart’s desire with people I could connect with, and that’s exactly what I’m doing today.
“Another part of why I am on the robotics team is the fact that I would like more girls to be represented in STEM fields! By being a prominent figure in robotics, I can hopefully inspire other girls to join and prove that STEM isn’t just for guys.”
Robotics is a large time commitment and a lot of work. Build times vary from season to season, but generally, each person is committing at least 10 hours a week during the peak build season.
However, this large amount of time isn’t spent suffering.
“Time is spent joyfully learning about how to use power tools, how to wire a robot, and how to code,” said Hu, who is currently the software apprentice, a member of the drive team and is the club’s media representative. “It’s so much fun to learn about new things, and use the new knowledge to create something completely your own. Additionally, you are learning how to manage time, be productive, work with others, and have a good mindset about learning. These are all very important life skills to harbor, and they are all enforced on this team.”
“Robotics is a good place to be.”
Hu was nominated as a Dean’s List Semifinalist, a student who showed tremendous contribution and leadership to the team, and was a positive influence all around. She also was a National Aspirations in Computing Award Honorable Mention and Michigan Aspirations in Computing regional winner.
Getting ready for the FIRST Robotics World Competition has been both hard work and fun.
“Each member of our team has been tremendously committed to rebuilding and revamping our robot to get it to competition state,” she said. “We are positive that we will do well at Worlds because we have put so much effort into making this robot work.”
Hu also is “tremendously committed” to her music.
“I have a passion for music and started playing the violin at age 6, from a recommendation from my parents,” she said. “At the time, I wasn’t necessarily ecstatic about having to practice every day, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I have an innate talent and love for the instrument.”
Hu has been a member of several orchestras, including the Symphony Orchestra at Pioneer, the All-State Honors Orchestra (every year since seventh grade), and the Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra at UM (every year since eighth grade). The Michigan Youth Symphony Orchestra at the school of music is a 100 person ensemble exclusively for high school kids who play well known and challenging repertoires from many composers.
“We receive coaching from and get to play with UM faculty and students,” she said. “Each year players are required to re-audition for the orchestra.”
Hu also is the president of the Ann Hua Chinese School. The school offers Chinese classes from K-adult, including Chinese dance, calligraphy, writing class, karate class, coding class, math class, yoga class, and the typical writing and reading classes.
“As president of the student team, I am responsible for organizing a student task force to help out with school activities,” she said. “I connect with the principal of the school and relay information between the student body and the adults. I enjoy having the responsibility and working with both students and adults.”
In robotics, the goal is to make the project as complete and versatile as possible. The team is constantly working on it, tweaking it, adjusting this and improving that. It’s a work in progress right up until the starting line.
In a way, Danniell Hu is approaching herself in the same way. She’s always trying to be a better, more well-rounded and versatile person. Learning about this and experimenting with that. She has accomplished a lot in 16 years, but she admits she is very much a work in progress with the starting line a long way away.