Technology and STEM Changing Students Lives

Despite being a member of my robotics team for mere months, I was chosen out of the 80 team members to be one of the two presenters who spoke to judges and potential sponsors on behalf of the team at competitions and events. I quickly learned everything there was to know about FRC Team 1676 (my high-school robotics team) in just a few weeks and found success at my first competition with the team receiving the Entrepreneurship Award. While learning this team history, I discovered that our team had repeatedly attempted to create robotics teams in other countries, with no success. I found the idea of international robotics outreach extraordinarily exciting; I had always had access to engineering within my community and I felt that everyone should have the same opportunity. But, every coach and team member I asked told me that continuing the project was much too difficult, that finding the funds would be impossible, and that it wasn’t worth the effort.
My sophomore year I was placed as the head of two Sub-Divisions: Electrical and International Outreach. I spent the whole year teaching both myself and my ten International Outreach students FTC (more affordable high-school robotics teams) by combining my knowledge of middle and high-school robotics with online resources and practicing with my team’s old FTC kit to gain experience. After learning, in 2018 I began to mentor FTC teams weekly and even wrote the Rookie Bookie to help future International teams achieve sustainability, write engineering notebooks, and design robots (download at team1676.com). Weekly I would speak to my contacts in Nigeria and South Africa on identifying schools, mentors, funding, and competition spaces for potential robotics teams, and mentored four existing Nigerian FLL (middle-school robotics) teams to advance their skills. I even wrote and received a grant from the parent robotics company, FIRST, for kits for future teams. The year of work paid off, and by the fall of my junior year, I had created four FTC teams in Nigeria and one in South Africa.
But the work was far from over. I had to take what I learned from spending five hours a week mentoring local FLL teams during their season and three hours a week mentoring local FTC teams and apply it to mentoring the FTC teams I created. And when the official FIRST FTC coordinator of Nigeria, Ade, asked if I could plan a two-week student-exchange program with members of the Nigerian FTC teams in just four months, I knew that it was possible too. Despite being told my coaches that it takes a year to coordinate, I planned housing arrangements, trips to local robotics competitions, and two weeks worth of meals and activities, all while mentoring five international FTC teams weekly, helping write the Chairman’s Presentation, Chairman’s Essay and business plan as the team MOD-Advisor, memorizing the Chairman’s Presentation as a team presenter, running electrical stimulation tests and gathering data for 10 cultures of Euglena and C. elegans for 1-2 hours a day before school and during lunch, and spending 36-45 hours a week after school running my Electrical Sub-Division and completing the design, construction, and wiring of the electrical systems on two robots (in addition to doing my homework, studying, practicing piano, and the occasional Carnegie Hall performance, of course).
By March of 2021, I expanded the project even further to start 2 more robotics teams in South Africa and mentor them dilligently. I also continued my partnership with the Coderina Foundation in Nigeria to assist 12 brand-new middle-school robotics teams get their feet off the ground and compete for the first time in April of 2021.
I challenged the idea that creating seven robotics teams in two countries I had never been to was impossible because spreading engineering is something that I love doing. I’m not afraid of putting in years’ worth of work if it means I can see the teams that I helped create show me their first robot design, ask me where to mount their battery box, or just tell me that they are excited about robotics. I took the idea of spreading robotics globally, pursued the challenge relentlessly, and made it into my passion. Now, about 90 students in South Africa and Nigeria have access to opportunities they never thought were possible and can pursue STEM for the rest of their lives.

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