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Iolani School shows some aloha to Molokai robotics

Oahu school gives $5,000 to help send team to Texas

Engineering robots is one thing. Building the aloha spirit is quite another.

Iolani School did both during the recent Hawaii regional robotics competition. On Saturday, the Oahu robotics team gave its $5,000 winnings to fellow competitors, Molokai High School, after learning the Maui County school couldn’t make it to this month’s world championship due to the event’s high cost.

Also, Iolani launched a GoFundMe page (www.gofundme.com/send-molokai-high-to-world-champ-robotics-comp-tx) this week to help Molokai fundraise for travel, estimated to be around $10,000.

Molokai’s Team 7724, led by after-school teacher Edwin Mendija, earned the Rookie All-Star award at the 12th annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition Hawaii Regional, which drew 36 entrants March 29 and Saturday to the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Competing against five other state and international division rookie teams, the award secures an invitation to the world event.

Most robotics teams have at least 20 students, along with multiple teachers or mentors. Mendija said his seven-student group, with mostly females, is resourceful and used what few power tools and materials they could find on the rural island to build their competition robot.

Iolani’s Team 2438, which has a roster of 20 students, 10 of whom are in full-time competition, had a world ticket from the Canadian Pacific regional competition earlier this year, according to team mentor Stephanie Lee. Iolani won the Engineering Inspiration award at Hawaii regionals Saturday that carries a NASA grant of $5,000, which will go to Molokai.

“It was serendipitous timing,” Lee said Thursday, noting that the $5,000 award is exactly what’s required to register for worlds. “We are really advocating for them to go.”

Lee said they are in contact with Molokai to help guide organizers through logistical issues, such as how to get its 100-pound robot from Hawaii to Texas, how to transport batteries, where to find safety glasses and other travel challenges that are tough for Aloha State robotics groups.

The Iolani team, which qualified for worlds this year based on community outreach and in 2015 for its bot’s performance, was impressed with Molokai’s community spirit and high skill level.

“The entire island community rallies behind this team,” Iolani said on GoFundMe. “They do outreach events at local elementary schools, and their students see STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as a way to change their future and give back to their community.

“Their story is moving, and it would be a travesty for our whole state if this team did not make it to the Robotics World Championships to represent their lahui.”

Despite advancements in technology, science, math and engineering accessible to today’s students, human kindness is not something that can be fabricated.

“It’s not about your school winning or doing the best,” Lee said. “It’s about helping everyone, our entire community. We saw that quality in Molokai High.”

The world championships will be held April 17-20 in Houston, Texas.

Maui High School Team 2443 also qualified for the world championships, garnering a wild card, which goes to high-ranking teams at regionals. To help Maui High raise funds for travel, visit its GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/sendbluethunder or shop at the team rummage sale with snacks, furniture, clothing, home goods, toys, books and more from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday at Lihikai Elementary School.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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