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‘Miracle’ Takes MHS Robotics to Worlds

Photo courtesy of Edwin Mendija

The Molokai High School robotics team never expected to be able to attend the World Championship in Texas, let alone come home with an award, but they did both last month, in what coach Edwin Mendija has dubbed a “miracle.”

Last month, the seven-member team secured a spot at the Worlds with their performance at the FIRST Robotics Competition Hawaii Regional, as well as earned the Rookie All-Star award. But they knew they didn’t have the funds to make the trip to the event, where registration alone comes with a $5,000 price tag.

“Traveling to the championship itself was seemingly impossible, since the program historically has a low budget — especially for a high school level team,” said Mendija. “A trip to Texas was never in the plans for MHS Robotics, but thanks to the Iolani High School robotics team Iobotics, KITV News, and numerous generous donors and sponsors, going to a world championship event became a reality.”

When Iolani’s team connected with Molokai during the regional competition, they congratulated the Friendly Isle team on their upcoming appearance at Worlds but were surprised at the response.

“When we congratulated the team after the awards ceremony, they told us that they were so thankful to have won the Rookie All Star award, but that they would not be able to go to Worlds – their school had used all of their money to send them to the Hawaii Regional on Oahu,” wrote Iolani’s team on a GoFundMe page.

So the Iobotics decided to do something amazing for Molokai: they had won the Engineering Inspiration award, which came with a $5,000 NASA grant that they decided to donate to Molokai’s robotics team to help them get to the world competition. But they didn’t stop there.

The Iolani team launched a GoFundMe account for their friends on Molokai, raising more than $13,000 in just a few weeks, with the promotional help of KITV News.

“The entire island community rallies behind this team….” the GoFundMe page explained of Molokai’s robotics team. “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.”

So with a lot of generous help along with the way, Molokai High’s team attended the World Championship for the first time.

The team competed in a game called “destination: deep space.” Using a robot that they built and programmed themselves – which they aptly named “Manawa kupono” or “Opportunity” — students maneuvered it to move a series of plastic disks and balls into goal areas.

Molokai excelled, bringing home the prestigious Rookie Inspiration Award, which “celebrates a rookie team’s outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school, as well as in their community.”

Mendija called experience “life changing for all involved.”

“I enjoyed meeting new people, experiencing the different opportunities world had to offer and diving into the new cultural age of technology that is being offered now and for the future,” said team member Maria Angst. “Being able to bond with my team and seeing new inspiration has brought me hope not only for my community on Molokai but also for my future as I move on from high school in hopes to better the world.”

Freshman member Nathalie Hosten said she gained a greater appreciation for the scope of robotics.

“I learned that robotics is much bigger than I thought,” she said. “There are thousands of people around the world passionate about robotics. I have such a broad range of career interests from musician, to author, to astronaut, or astronomical engineering, but I know that whatever I pursue, my robotics experiences will help me.”

Now that this season of completion has come to a close, Mendija is already looking ahead to the future.

“The knowledge you gain from competing with the best teams and programs in the world is simply invaluable,” he said. “We will now take everything we learned from this season and continue to march upward, in both our competition and community outreach efforts.”

For Angst, the lessons she has learned in robotics will also stick with her.

“I learned that through hard work, passion, and determination, anything is possible if you have the will power to do so and have the people who support you by your side,” she said. “Also, coming from a small island I learned that it’s OK to be different and that your differences are what makes you unique.”

Mendija said having the opportunity to compete at Worlds has put Molokai on the map.

“When I took over the MHS Robotics program, at first it was to ‘show Molokai kids what they can do in the world,” he said. “A few years later, it has become ‘Molokai kids showing the world what they can do.’”


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