As an alum of all three FIRST® programs, a current mentor for a FIRST® Robotics Competition team and President of the FIRST Illinois Robotics Alum Association, Kelli is no stranger to FIRST or STEAM and the impact it can have on your life. Currently, she is an LED Video Engineer and Content Systems Manager at Unanimous Designs, or as Kelli puts it, “I make millions of lights blink in unison for some of the country’s coolest clients.” Some of those clients have included Lady Gaga, the NBA, and The Walt Disney Company. She works with TV and film crews to make sure that their designs are optimized for LED formats. Although she will put in 140-hour work weeks during large events, she loves hearing the cheers as the lights go out and a show she created is starting. It’s almost like when your FIRST team arrives at competition, you have your first match of the season, and you get to see all of your hard work pay off.
Read more about how Kelli uses her FIRST and STEAM skills to light up events.
FIRST Staff: Can you share some information about your current role at Unanimous Designs?
Kelli: I am an LED Video Engineer that specializes in in-arena integration. That’s a fancy way of saying I make millions of lights blink in unison for some of the country’s coolest clients that have included Lady Gaga, the NBA, and The Walt Disney Company. I typically manage 20+ individual boards that all network together to make one cohesive and immersive look. Aside from the engineering behind it, I’ve done graphic design for multiple NCAA teams, the Ryder Cup, and El Classico. I consult with companies to make sure their designs are optimized for LED formats and work with TV and Film crews to make sure we all have what we need for a seamless production.
FIRST Staff: What is your favorite part of your current role as a LED Video Engineer and Content Systems Manager?
Kelli: Outside of the closet full of free team merch? I absolutely love that each day is a new challenge. Clients come in with what seem like insurmountable tasks and ideas that I get to make reality. I have the most fun designing intro videos for teams. Hearing the cheers through the walls as the lights go out and the show starts with my click is a pretty powerful feeling. Seeing your design live on ESPN doesn’t hurt either.
FIRST Staff: What is the hardest part of your job?
Kelli: The entertainment industry is a bit wild when it comes to hours so simply staying awake can sometimes be hard. During large events like Star Wars Celebration or the NBA Draft Combine I will easily put in 140 hours a week. Quick changeovers from event to event are both exciting and hard as well. It’s really important to remember that some of these events are a once in a lifetime thing for the client so it is their Super Bowl. There is always a lot of stress surrounding making everything perfect, and knowing that if you fail, you are failing in front of 12,000 people in person and hundreds of thousands more via live television. Luckily FIRST gave me the skills to deal with that stress and time crunch at a young age. Just like how every match starts on time, every sporting event starts on time whether you are ready or not.
FIRST Staff: How do you use STEAM skills in your everyday work/life?
Kelli: I use STEAM daily in both work and life. I create almost all of my graphics in Adobe After Effects and then have to use all sorts of math to figure out proper pixel sizes and timings to link them over multiple computers to trigger at the same time. As a hobby, I shoot b-roll and stock footage for several companies. Patterns and geometry are very important when it comes to getting the best shot.
FIRST Staff: Can you share your thoughts on the impact of your personal/professional work in STEAM?
Kelli: Outside of mentoring FIRST Robotics Competition Team 8096, Cache Money, and making a difference in the local my FIRST community, I work with women’s sports. I currently work for the Chicago Sky WNBA team and have been trying to up the production quality, so it is on par with NBA teams. After seeing the community rally together after we won the 2021 WNBA Championship, I really wanted to do my part and have since been doing so by pushing for more quality content, making sure we have the right elements for each themed night, and promoting the team whenever possible.
FIRST Staff: Who is a “Person of STEAM” who inspires you?
Kelli: Jim Henson. His ingenious ability to fuse engineering and art to create creatures that would shape the lives of so many people of all ages is unmatched. He has been cited as being the spark that ignited PBS and that in and of itself is inspirational. Kids all over the world received their education from his creations and his legacy is amazing.
FIRST Staff: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Kelli: Don’t worry so much about what other people think about you and what you are doing. Life isn’t just engineering or art, it’s a mix of both and eventually the people around you will notice that. If they don’t, go find new people. Your people are out there waiting to be found.
FIRST Staff: Do you have a message you want to share for students who are participating in FIRST today?
Kelli: Keep following your passion and don't give it up just to fit in. Take risks that allow you to follow the path you see yourself ending up on, but don’t be afraid to deviate if that’s what you feel is right. Lastly, the people that support you while you’re on a FIRST team are the people who will be your friends for the rest of your life. They’re who will stand by your side through thick and thin and celebrate you for you. I doubt you’ll find friendships like these anywhere else.
Are you a person of STEAM? Share your story with #PeopleofSTEAM on social media or send us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.