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Victory for Robotics Team

By Jack Kiyonaga, Community Reporter 

Photo courtesy of Edwin Mendija.

On Jan. 28, the Kaunakakai School Robotics Team achieved a unique feat for Molokai. 

The team, coached by Andrea Yuen and Joe Howe, won the highest prize, the Excellence Award, at the 2023 Vex IQ Elementary State Championship. 

The Excellence Award is “given to a team who exemplifies overall excellence in creating a high- quality robotics program,” said Edwin Mendija, a robotics coach and supporter of the team. The criteria for such an award includes not just doing well in the competition itself, but also having proper documentation and explaining the robot to the judges. 

“As their coach, they competed strongly,” especially in the engineering notebook and judges’ interview, said Yuen. 

The engineering notebook and judges interview require documentation of the robot building process and explanations of the robot design and programming. 

Yuen believes that having a “student centered program” where the students themselves are doing all the designing and creating, helped them achieve these awards. 

The contest was an opportunity for Molokai students to demonstrate their skills in all areas. A robotics competition requires students to “not only have to design, build, program and operate a robot,” but also obliges them to “learn organizational, communication, social and leadership skills,” said Mendija. 

At the competition itself, students were judged on a variety of robot tasks including an alliance driving game and a robot skills challenge. 

The Vex IQ Competition provides students with “exciting, open-ended robotics, engineering and research project challenges,” as described on their website. 

Of the more than 30 teams entered at this year’s event, including teams from Maunaloa and Kualapu’u schools, Kaunakakai School emerged with not only the Excellence award, but also the Sportsmanship Award. 

The Sportsmanship Award is given for notably courteous behavior towards competitors and judges, according to Yuen. 

This success of character, Yuen explained, is related to the high level of student and parent commitment. 

“These kids have been working together…almost every Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. all year,” in addition to three days a week after school, said Yuen.  

The results from the statewide competition landed the school with two teams into the World Championships. These future competitions will occur in early May in Dallas, Texas, with more than 800 programs competing. 

While certainly a challenge, Mendija believes that the island’s students are poised for success. 

“Molokai students are hands-on learners, and they love to create something out of their imagination,” said Mendija. 

From these competitions, students also “gain confidence from knowing that they can go out in the world and be competitive,” Mendija explained. 

Right now, the team’s supporters are busy fundraising. Molokai residents can support the Kaunakakai School’s world championship trip by buying pizza tickets, attending a rummage sale outside the school on March 4, or donating to the program through the Molokai Community Service Council. 


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