Meet tomorrow’s leaders

Irvine elementary students are producing their own news shows, middle schoolers are building and competing with robots and high schoolers are developing and launching satellites into orbit.

Elementary School: Anchorwoman


“Good Morning, wonderful Westpark!”

That’s how TV anchor Madelyn Nolan, 11, opens her Monday morning news show — at Westpark Elementary.

The sixth grader is part of a news team that works out of a media lab called the “Green Room.” The lab was built with funds from Measure E, which Irvine voters passed in 2016 “to prepare students for 21st century college and career.”

The Green Rooms (every school in Irvine eventually will have similar features) are equipped with lights, cameras, microphones and computers. Students edit their show using iMovie on a Mac.

“My first time on air,” Madelyn says, “there were kids coming up to me saying, ‘Oh, I saw you on Eagle News!’”

She’d love to pursue a career in news, but she’s already committed to being a veterinarian.

In addition to playing basketball, lacrosse and flag football (with the boys), she is a straight-A student.

“I want to graduate from Harvard,” she says.

Good morning, Harvard!

Middle School: Robotic Engineer


When seventh grader Justice Cheng isn’t shooting hoops or playing catch with her dad and little brother, she is building robots.

The 12-year-old is part of a team at Plaza Vista School that builds and programs robots.

“Justice has been the lead student in my classroom, sharing information with her peers and troubleshooting when they are stuck,” teacher Shawn Gillespie says. “Often, she helps me understand things – which I love!”

Last year as a sixth grader, Justice led a team that took third place with its Linkbot at the OC Roboplay Challenge Competition.

This year, her team will enter at least two competitions with VEX Robots that the team is building and coding to do complex tasks.

“All of our middle schools use VEX robots or Linkbots,” Gillespie says, “and nearly all of them compete.”

Why? Robotics makes the connection between technology and math, he says.

Or, as Justice puts it: “It’s exciting when something works.”

High School: Satellite Designer


Amberley Martinez is only 16, but she’s already helped launch two satellites into orbit.

“It’s crazy,” admits the captain of University High’s CubeSat team – one of Irvine’s high school teams conducting space experiments under the tutelage of industry mentors.

Amberley was a sophomore last fall when 150 Irvine students launched Irvine01, making history as the West Coast’s first high school to launch a nano-satellite.

In December, they launched Irvine02 aboard a NASA rocket leaving Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Amberley, who joined a young astronauts club in elementary school, can’t believe her good fortune to attend a high school with one of the most progressive space programs in America.

She’s now working on Irvine03, set to launch in 2020 to study the Crab Nebula, 6,500 light-years away. In April, she presented the design for Irvine04 to three NASA judges.

“This opportunity is amazing,” she says. “I wish every student could experience this.”