What Do Former Mayor Bloomberg, will.i.am, and a Tandon School of Engineering Sophomore Have in Common?

An Award-Winning Commitment to Promoting STEM Learning

Inspire Award recipients pose with FIRST Founder Dean Kamen during inaugural charity event. From left to right are Michael R. Bloomberg, Diana Lee Guzman, Dean Kamen, and will.i.am.

There are many ways in which to describe Tandon School of Engineering’s Diana Lee Guzman: first person in her family to attend college, aspiring computer scientist and astronaut, and valued employee of NYU’s Center for K12 STEM Education.

That list can now officially include “rising star.”


A member of the Harlem Knights FIRST Robotics Team (left) and Donald E. Bossi, President of US FIRST, present Diana Lee Guzman with the Rising Star Award 

In early November, Guzman—a longtime participant in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)—was honored at the organization’s inaugural gala with the Evelyn Kamen Rising Star Award. Named after the mother of the group’s founder (who spent much of her life as a teacher), the award recognized Guzman’s efforts to advance science, technology, engineering, and math education in underserved communities throughout New York City.

Guzman, who got to rub elbows with fellow honorees Mike Bloomberg and will.i.am during the event, had initially become involved with FIRST as a high school student, when she took part in competitions sponsored by the group. (First runs several levels of programs: FIRST LEGO League Jr. and FIRST LEGO League for the youngest participants; FIRST Tech Challenge for those in middle and high school; and FIRST Robotics, in which high school teams build industrial-size robots of up to 150 pounds.)

Guzman attended Arizona’s Carl Hayden High School, an institution made famous when its ragtag, underfunded robotics team bested MIT in a 2004 competition. Graduates of the school, whose student body is 90% Hispanic, rarely leave their home state for college because of financial constraints and familial ties, but Guzman was determined to study on the East Coast and ultimately decided upon the Tandon School of Engineering. Knowing how inspiring it had been for her to participate in FIRST and wanting to help others do so, immediately upon arriving at the MetroTech Center, she found her way to the Center for K12 STEM Education to volunteer. Impressed by her obvious passion and drive, the Center’s director, Ben Esner, hired her instead.

Guzman speaking at the inaugural FIRST, Inspire Awards Event

Guzman speaking at the inaugural FIRST, Inspire Awards Event

Guzman now serves as an undergraduate mentor for New York City teams taking part in the FIRST Tech Challenge, in which students from grades 7 to 12 design, build, program, and operate robots to play a floor game. (The 2015-16 game is modeled after rescue situations faced by mountain explorers, with robots scoring points by delivering climbers to a shelter, parking on the mountain, retrieving debris from the playing field, and other actions.)

She says that it was exciting for her to attend the fundraising event, meet celebrities, and receive her award, but it is when Guzman discusses helping the FIRST Tech Challenge teams to wire and program their robots that she really lights up. Running a tech workshop seems to come more naturally to her than walking the stage at a high-wattage gala.

Active in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), she intends to continue exploring ways to promote STEM learning and advocate for underrepresented students, and she has in mind to forge a strong working relationship between the NYU student chapter of SHPE and FIRST. “I want people who come from backgrounds like mine, who might not think that science and technology careers are possible for them, to know that, in reality, anything is possible,” Guzman says. “Even if your parents haven’t attended college or if few of your classmates ever leave their hometowns, you can take any path you choose.” She concludes, “My advice to all the kids I work with at the Center is to expand their horizons and liberate themselves from the boundaries they thought they had. They’ll never know what they could fall in love with if they never try new things.”

Learn more about: Ben Esner