By: Jerry Yu ’19, Technology Reporter
At Friends’ Central, there is a large STEM community full of intelligent and industrious young engineers and scientists. This month, we interviewed Ben Lehrer ’20, known at school for his rock-climbing and programming talent. We hope that Ben’s story can encourage more of our friends to pursue an education in STEM.
Ben told FOCUS that his passion in engineering started in the ID Tech Camp at Villanova university, where he learned programming and made a game. Soon, he started working with Arduino and practiced programming. “I taught myself how to program,” Ben recalled.
Teaching himself to program was not a simple task. Many people, at learning this, compliment him as being “very intelligent.” A Friends’ Central student, after seeing Ben’s
robot, commented, “He is quite a genius. He has what it takes to be the best. I sort of envy that.” However, Ben disagrees with that person, as he claims that his effort, not necessarily his talent, have been what have allowed him to succeed: “If you are motivated enough, you can do it.” He believes that the internet offers aspiring engineers many useful resources, from guides to reference sheets, that can make learning much easier. When asked about the drawbacks of using the internet, Ben commented that programmers should learn to debug programs by themselves instead of immediately going to forums like StackOverflow and asking others for help. Finding errors in one’s own code can be quite challenging at times, yet familiarizing oneself with the tools and methods in debugging can improve one’s skills and understanding greatly.
Every year, Spot Technology, a group started by Ben Lehrer and his friend, classmate, and tech partner, Jonathan Roach ’20, would make a project and attend fairs to show off their work. Last year, they debuted the MARVIN, a Connect-4-playing robot powered by an AI that allows it to win against most humans it has played against. Besides the program, it also features a large elevator that lifts huge game pieces to the top of the 15-foot-tall device, while a ramp and gate system accurately drops the ball at the desired row. According to Ben, the large mechanisms were also quite difficult to design and make. With MARVIN, Ben hopes to create an interactive and fun project that can make more kids interested in engineering. Spot Technology displayed MARVIN at the lower school, where students showed great interest. Ben told FOCUS that his happiest moment was when kids began asking him how they could make something like that, as he knew that he has inspired more kids to be interested in engineering.
Beyond high school, Ben wishes to become a rocket engineer and devote himself to it. Ben says he likes the stereotype of rocket science - complicated, challenging, and imposing. He enjoys using his knowledge to solve any challenge that may be set before him (such as an imposing rock wall, as rock climbing is another one of his passions). According to Ben, rock climbing is similar to his STEM pursuits because it “is also problem solving,” where he has to “figure out how to step,” paying attention to angels, steps, and the mechanics behind each move. To the FCS community, he commented: “Don’t say you’re not ‘smart enough.’ Put in time and effort,” and you can succeed. Meanwhile, he hopes that the school starts an introductory engineering course where students get to learn ways to apply their understanding in physics to solve practical problems.