ROGERS PARK — Roshaan Siddiqui might only be a Junior at Chicago Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park, but the 17-year-old engineer is already abundant in opportunities for the future.
Siddiqui is a member of the school's FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team, the Robotitans. After five years of painstakingly putting together machines, he was among six students in his league from around the country to win a "Dean's List" Award at the Robotics World Championship in St. Louis last month.
The award, named after the FIRST competitions' founder Dean Kamen, is given to student participants who go above and beyond in their commitment, skill and attitude throughout the competition. The event hosts tens of thousands of attendees, with young inventors representing 33 different countries.
It comes not only with prizes — like gift cards, headphones and a free round-trip flight to anywhere in the United States — but also access to invaluable experiences down the road.
Among those is a three-day, fully funded trip for him and a coach to FIRST's headquarters in Manchester, N.H., where he'll get to attend a robotics summit before venturing off to visit nearby colleges.
Another prize, a letter of recommendation to the university of Siddiqui's choice, is what the young engineer said the competition is all about.
"Besides all the monetary prizes, I think that's the main thing," Siddiqui said. "That's going to define the next four years of my life."
His life experiences so far have largely helped shape Siddiqui's views on education and fuel his passion for electronics and building.
When he was young, he and his father would find projects to work on, though often times that fascination carried on overnight as he stayed up late to take apart, and put back together, gadgets around the house, Siddiqui said.
The Robotitans robot won the team two awards this year and earned Roshaan Siddiqui renowned "Dean's List" award. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
When he was 5, his family left Chicago and moved to Pakistan to be with his ill grandmother before returning five years ago.
Coming from the United States, Siddiqui said at first his new life was jarring, but eventually he came to realize important values he shared with the area's native residents — ideals that still drive him today.
In Pakistan, people work "their whole lives to strive for academic excellence just so they can try to get a visa to come to America."
"And then I'm here, so I should take advantage of that environment that I already have. That's why I always work hard and am determined in what I do," he said.
Since joining the robotics team at his school, Siddiqui has worked his way up from the middle school tier, which builds movable machines from Legos.
The high schooler even went to Romania to help a local school start its own robotics club, and earlier this year provided mentorship to Chicago Math and Science Academy's first-ever girls robot team.
For the last few years, he's been working with the real stuff — metallic sheets, nuts, bolts, wires, coding and more — to get his team's android to remotely and automatically maneuver, battle other robots and perform specific tricks and tasks.
The school said it wants to help bring the club other Chicago Public Schools too.
"You don't see urban schools doing this very much," said Irene Bermudez, the school's community engagement coordinator.
When Siddiqui graduates next year, he wants to start college in the United States but also study abroad for a period. He's looking to major in either mechanical or computer science engineering with an emphasis on business so he can one day start his own engineering company.
With summer around the corner, he's also preparing for a few projects of his own to keep himself busy, such as creating a sophisticated iPhone app that could replace the traditional paper hall pass.
In the meantime, he said he takes his award seriously and feels pride in the goals he's reached so far.
"It's a big deal; it's a big responsibility," he said. "I want to show persistence and take that into college, and I want to do something big with it."