Feature Stories

He Builds Robots, Runs Fast and Won a Full Scholarship to Cornell

Jonathan Daudelin was named an NCE Outstanding Senior and won a full scholarship to Cornell.

When he was a boy, Jonathan Daudelin spent endless hours building robots. His parents thought his love of building would one day do him good. They were right. 

At age 13, Jonathan’s robotics team took first place at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival. After that win, a writer asked him to co-author a book with him about robots. Jonathan agreed and the book became a bestseller in its field on Amazon.com. Jonathan later co-authored three more books on robotics.

During his senior year in high school, he scored 1,500 (math and verbal) on the SATs, which earned him a scholarship to the Albert Dorman Honors College, where he’s now a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.  His transcript is a skein of A’s. He has a 4.0 GPA. On one of his math exams, he scored a 106 -- a grade that his professor said was the highest ever recorded in that class. He excels on the NJIT men’s track team and did an internship at iRobot, a leading robotic company. 

Jonathan is one of 10 children, all of whom were homeschooled by their parents. He is the second of the Daudelin dynasty to excel at NJIT: His older brother, David, just graduated from the Honors College with a 4.0. His younger brother, Isaac, is an honor's sophomore with a 4.0. And another brother, Tim, is a freshman in the college.   

“My brothers and I really enjoy NJIT and the Honors College, says Jonathan, “since it offers a variety of opportunities, both academically and socially. It’s also prepared me well for a career in robotics.”

Jonathan recently received good news. He was named the Newark College of Enginering (NCE) Outstanding Senior in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and was awarded a full scholarship and stipend to do a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cornell University.

In this interview, Jonathan talks about his family, his studies at NJIT and his love of engineering and robotics.

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How did homeschooling prepare you for NJIT?  What did you gain intellectually from being homeschooled? 

I'm so thankful to my parents for sacrificing their time and money to homeschool me. Being homeschooled enabled me to learn at my own pace and pursue particular areas of interest to me, especially robotics. Intellectually, I think homeschooling helped teach me to take the initiative in pursuing my interests and also gave me ability to research and learn things on my own. My mom was my main teacher from kindergarten through high school, although my dad did teach me a couple classes that were close to his area of expertise. I also took a few online classes. My parents both have masters’ degrees in Electrical Engineering: my dad received his from MIT and my mom from Columbia University.

How would you describe mechanical engineering to a high school student?

It's a broad major that deals with the design of almost any sort of machine or physical mechanism. It also deals with the study of materials used in those mechanisms. You spend a lot of time learning about stress analysis and material properties. Other core areas covered include CAD design, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer and kinematics.

What aspects of robotics did you focus on?  Did you study robotics in your classes or work on robots for independent projects?

I really like the field of military robotics, especially machine learning and artificial intelligence. I didn't get the opportunity to take many robotics classes, but I was able to do a couple of projects. For example, last year I researched active suspension systems, which I believe could be used in military robots to help them travel more smoothly over rough terrain. I've also coached middle school and high school robotics teams in Manhattan for the past three years. My teams have twice won their regional championships and qualified to compete at the world championships.

Did you begin running track at NJIT? 

Yes. Although I never ran competitively in high school (I had never even been on a track before coming to NJIT), one of the athletes here saw me often running in the gym for exercise and recommended I join the Cross Country and Track teams. I was completely unprepared for how much work and time it took to be on the team, but it turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences for me, and I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to run with such a great group of teammates; they’ve become like a second family to me.  And running does provide a good excuse for keeping in shape and a diversion from studying, although of course we take it way beyond that: I spend up to five hours training almost every day.

Talk about your family’s tie to NJIT and the Honors College? 

NJIT has been a great blessing for my family. Last semester four members of my family were attending here full time. My older brother David graduated after last semester with a Masters in computer science and is now doing very well working in a management track position at AT&T in Middletown. My next two younger brothers, Isaac and Timothy, are both studying Biology here. Isaac is a sophomore and is pursuing an MD/PhD, and Timothy is a freshman who is studying to be a dentist.

Intellectually how much have you developed at NJIT?

In addition to learning much about higher education in mechanical engineering, I think I've gained a general ability to research and learn harder engineering principles. I think it's also helped me hone and mature my interests in robotics to a more professional level. That will help me immensely in my career.

What accomplishment at NJIT are you most proud of? 

NJIT has given me so many great opportunities. I think I most enjoyed the hands-on projects I was able to do in the field of robotics, such as my independent research on active suspension systems under the supervision of Professor Kevin McDermott. It's also a great honor to receive this award from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department; I still remember reading about the 2009 ME Outstanding Senior when I was an incoming freshman, and being inspired to strive for the same goal.

What are your plans for Cornell?

I was surprised and excited when I received Cornell's offer of admission and full funding. They do a lot of interesting and cutting-edge work in robotics. Although I’ll pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, I’ll probably take mostly computer science and electrical engineering classes; that would give me more of an education in those fields, since they're a fundamental part of robotics. And yes, I'm excited about going to a big school up in Ithaca, especially since it's still within easy driving distance of home, so I'll still be able to visit my family often.

(By Robert Florida)