Arizona Students' Participation In Robotics Competition Boosted By The Big Screen

By Kate Sheehy
March 19, 2015
(C) 2013 Richard Schultz. Courtesy of 50 Eggs
2004 Robotics Team members Cristian Arcega, Oscar Vazquez, Luis Aranda, and Lorenzo Santillan with Carl Hayden teacher Fredi Lajvardi.

Starting this weekend Arizona high school students are participating in regional robotics competitions. They’re part of a larger event involving tens of thousands of young people around the country and the world. The goal behind the competition is to inspire students to explore careers in science and technology.

A group of Mexican immigrant students from a low income Phoenix high school made waves when they beat MIT in a robotics competition in 2004. The team had been part of "For Inspiration in Science and Technology" or FIRST. It's the international nonprofit behind this compeition. 

A documentary and feature film have brought the students’ success to the big screen.

Alberto Esparza  is the president of "Si Se Puede," or "Yes We Can," a foundation that has been involved with the competition for 10 years. He said the popularity of the story is motivating young people.

"It’s the impetus that really inspired them to even look at careers in engineering. [It] gave students the opportunity to look at themselves and to think just because they live in the barrio, it's not a death sentence," Esparza said.

He’s said his organization works with students from the poorest schools in the Chandler Unified School District, which really don't have a lot of money to provide science and technology education.

Esparza said this year’s team is under the wing of the same teacher, now retired, who mentored the group that beat MIT. This year students had to design a robot that picks up and recycles trash.

The regional competitions are March 20-21 at Hamilton High School in Chandler and the first weekend of April at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Teams are vying for a spot at the championship next month in St. Louis.