Staff Spotlight: Nicole Smith

Staff Spotlight: Nicole Smith
Posted on 12/18/2023
Ms. Smith working with students

When Nicole Smith heard her son’s Lego robotics team needed a coach, she jumped at the opportunity. As a teacher in Toksook Bay, she was already well-experienced working with children - just not so much with robotics. She shared, “I had no clue what I was doing, but that is the neat thing about robotics - the kids do all the work and the coach is just there to help guide and facilitate. I learned almost everything I needed to know as a coach from that team.”

Nicole Smith with robotics teams


Eleven years later, she is still going strong, teaching kindergarten at Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat in Bethel, and continuing to offer her support as a First Lego League coach. Her hard work was recognized during the FLL robotics tournament this month when she received the coach-of-the-year award. 

To further celebrate Ms. Smith’s contributions to LKSD, we asked her to share her story. Quyana, Ms. Smith, for all your hard work and dedication to our students! 

Nichole Smith works with robotics teams

How long have you been coaching with LKSD?

I have been a robotics coach for 11 years.  I began in 2012 when my son’s team needed a coach.  They asked and I said ‘Sure, why not!’ When I told my current team I started coaching in 2012, almost all of them said, “We weren’t even born yet!”  LOL - way to make me feel old!!

Are you originally from Alaska? If not, how long have you been here? 

I am originally from Montana.  I have worked in LKSD for 25 years, spending 11 years in Toksook Bay before moving to Bethel for the last 14.  My husband, Marty, and I have raised four boys here in the Delta and have loved all the experiences we have had.

Outside of FLL, what's your role at LKSD?

Outside of FLL, I am a kindergarten teacher at ME school.  You will also find me on the sidelines cheering for BRHS teams that my sons have or still participate in.

What's the best part of coaching robotics?

The best part of coaching robotics is walking over to GJE on practice days and having kids waiting at the door eager to work.  I see teams before school starts and then after school too.  Since they can potentially spend up to 5 years with me on a team, it is neat to watch how much they improve from year to year.  They do a little bit of everything – math, science, engineering, art, reading, writing, public speaking, and working as a team.  It is hard work, but we have so much fun and it’s the kids who make it so enjoyable.

What's a favorite memory you have of a previous tournament?

The 2016 Animal Allies season was one of my favorites.  After watching other teams’ robots and all the neat attachments they could run on them at state for two years, my team went and built one of the best robots and creative attachments a team has ever built. They also had a project they took through the whole engineering process on moose awareness with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. The look of pure joy and astonishment on their faces when we won 2nd place at State and went on the represent the state of Alaska at the North American Open Championships is one of my favorite memories. That team was a great group of kids who worked very hard.

What is one of your favorite FLL creations?

There are so many it is hard to pick from, but I just love all the project ideas we have worked on over the years.  Writing this list brings back so many memories.  You find a problem associated with the theme and invent or reshape a solution to make it better.  Here are all the creative ideas teams have had:

2012 – “Senior Solutions”, a tile tracker to help recover misplaced items (this was actually invented, not by us, and released in 2017)

2013 – “Nature’s Fury”, an avalanche recovery system on skis

2014 – “World Class Learning” explained how magic tricks are done

2015- “Trash Trek”, remodeled the plastic garbage dumpster lids so crows can’t make a mess at dumpsites

2016 - “Animal Allies” helped Fish and Game make a moose awareness page on their website, as well as created a buoy/fishing net to deter sharks from getting tangled in nets

2017 – “Hydro Dynamics” created an app and water meter to help Bethel residents monitor how much water was left in their water tanks

2018 – “Into Orbit” proposed the use of essential oils to help astronauts sleep better in space

2019 – “City Shaper” developed adjustable swing chains for the playground so kids of all heights can easily adjust the swings for themselves

2021 - “Cargo Connect” built an Alaskan porch box to protect packages from weather and thieves; designed a driverless solar paneled remote-controlled hovercraft that would deliver cargo to nearby villages; helped the local PO with a yellow slip package pick-up efficiency design

2022 – “Super Powered” utilized the city’s water flow, with a seaweed simulation, to generate power to help offset the cost of delivered water.  The Kuskokwim River and an underwater dam were used to generate power

2023 – “Masterpiece” created a “bike board” for the community to give, take, and share bike parts. Gaga pits at the city parks and school playgrounds were also installed.

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