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Robotics Team Puts Into Action a Gift from Women’s Fund

Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy students show off their award-winning robot

High school science has come a long way from boric acid, Bunsen burners and beakers.

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy senior robotics team strutted their stuff for members of the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara last week, and the women walked away from the presentation, well, wowed.

In February, the Women’s Fund granted $150,000 to the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s $3 million capital campaign to support expanding the popular program — which has a waiting list “out the door,” according to Sandy Seale, president of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Foundation — to be available to more students and constructing a new building to house it.

“It fits very well into the mission of our organization, that through the power of collective philanthropy we are changing lives together and changing the way our society views these subjects and professions,” Women’s Fund member Fleurette Janigan said. “I thought it was important that Amir Abo-Shaeer (the program director) mentioned that the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotic competition is about changing our culture to start valuing math, science and computer professions, just like sports is valued. They are also making them just as high energy and fun.”

The robot demonstration — presented primarily by students Natasha Banderia, Daniel Berg, Chase Buchanan, Anthony Cazabat, Angela Dai, Isabelle D’Arcy, Max Garber, Saher Hamdani, Bryan Heller, Andrew Hsu, Daniel Huthsing, John Kim, Caroline Kim, Fedor Kostritsa, Jacob Kovacs-Goodman, David Liu, Lisa Nakashima, Alyssa Ogi, Matthew Parker, Colin Ristig, Gabe Rives-Corbett, Luke Seale, Stuart Sherwin, Anthony Turk, Nick Vaughan, Alejandro Veloz, Yidi Wang, Kristi Ware, Kevin Wojcik, Akifumi Yamamoto and John Yi — not only was energetic, fun and impressive, but also an excellent showcase for the students’ public-speaking skills.

Students Gabe Rivas-Corbett, left, Alyssa Ogi and Yidi Wang team up in a presentation to the Women's Fund of Santa Barbara
Students Gabe Rivas-Corbett, left, Alyssa Ogi and Yidi Wang team up in a presentation to the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara. (Leslie Dinaberg / Noozhawk photo)

“Every year the seniors in the engineering academy participate in a robotics competition called FIRST, and every single year the game is different. It’s not a regular game like football, basketball or baseball; it’s a completely new game,” Rives-Corbett said while showing slides of a giant sports arena filled with 20,000 cheering fans watching this year’s game, “Lunacy.” The game involved students directing their respective robots to pick up 9-inch balls and getting points as the robots tossed the balls into trailers hitched to their opponents’ robots.

The students weren’t given any information about the game until 5 a.m. on Jan. 3, Rives-Corbett said.

“After six weeks, if you’re done or not, they come and take your robot,” said Ware, pausing for laughs like a veteran presenter. “Fortunately, we were good to go.”

“We really had no idea what was going to happen because this game has never really been played before. Our demonstration was all animation because there’s no real footage of the game,” Ogi said. “We watched the animation, and then we had six weeks to build a fully functional robot.”

The competition was held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in April, and the Dos Pueblos team made it to the finals.

“I was amazed at what they were able to accomplish in six weeks. I had no idea how complex the robot was or exactly how the competition worked,” Women’s Fund member Julie Sorenson said. “I was also impressed at how they model the entire process like a business and foster entrepreneurship.”

Students prepare to demonstrate
Students prepare to demonstrate “Lunacy,” a game that involves students directing their respective robots to pick up 9-inch balls and getting points as the robots tossed the balls into trailers hitched to their opponents’ robots. (Leslie Dinaberg / Noozhawk photo)

Not only do the students design and build their robot, they are also responsible for the lion’s share of the accounting, public relations, human resources, apparel, computer programming, graphics, sponsor recognition and writing efforts that go into the competition.

“I was inspired by the students who were passionate and poised and rightfully proud to share the creative results of their hard work,” Women’s Fund member Sarah de Tagyos said. “It was wonderful seeing our donation in action.”

Program Director Abo-Shaeer spoke about how the program has evolved during its four years. “This team is one-third girls, and from here on in it’s half and half, so these are the remnants of the trailblazers who can help make it so that all young girls now feel completely comfortable and excited to be in this program,” he said.

“I was so impressed with the composure the students spoke with and how much real-world business experience they received from working as a group to create a product, from beginning to end,” Janigan said.

Sorenson added: “I am thrilled that the women voted to support this program so they can expand it to make it accessible to more students in the future.”

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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