By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter
Molokai STEM programs received a boost last Friday thanks to the Molokai Island Foundation’s annual fundraiser. The concert and dinner event at the Molokai Community Health Center went to fund robotics programs at local schools through the Malama Education Fund.
STEM, standing for science, technology, engineering and math, covers a wide range of educational programs on island. One of the highlights of the event were the robotics displays put on by Kaunakakai and Maunaloa Schools, and Molokai Middle and High Schools. Lines of crane-like machines operated with computer coding. Other displays included playable robots linked to video game controllers. For the non-STEM orientated in the crowd, the robots were an impressive mass of incomprehensibly complicated ideas. For the students, it was just another day on the job.
Two Kaunakakai School Robotics Team stand-outs, Natalie Yuen and Malachi Smith, explained how education through STEM and robotics translates to the classroom.
For Yuen, the process of keeping a competition notebook allows her to combine writing with science and math. Smith highlighted applicable approaches to teamwork between robotics and the classroom.
“We share with each other. If something is not working for you, maybe this might work to help them,” explained Smith.
Both students were eager share that being involved with robotics is above all, just a lot of fun.
The Kaunakakai School team is headed to the Worlds robotics competition in Texas next month, which the fundraiser will help contribute to.
Edwin Mendija, who is robotics coach at Molokai High School and has been instrumental in fostering island-wide robotics programs, seconded the creative nature of working in STEM.
“I think it makes you think outside the box,” said Mendija.
Mendija uses robotics programs to “expose the students to computer science, engineering design process, problem solving skills,” as well as “leadership skills, communication skills, meeting deadlines, organization, documentation,” and more.
Teaching STEM through robotics lays a foundation for a career, explained Mendija, citing Molokai students who have gone on to work in STEM fields.
What Mendija hopes is that these students will turn their STEM education back towards Molokai.
“I think it’s possible,” said Mendija, for students to start their own STEM companies on-island, and “bring jobs back so younger folks can stay home.”
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