A in-depth look at some of the outreach projects conducted by MVRT

By Riya Ranjan

While the MVHS Robotics team was initially founded to compete in the First Robotics Competition (FRC), the mission of the team has spread beyond just winning a robot-building challenge to impacting its surrounding community. Junior Harshitha Pandian, a third-year member of MVRT’s operations team, explains that they are currently participating in several local outreach projects, including some directly within MVHS. 

“Something that we do, actually, at school, is [outreach with] Ohana. Ohana is a special needs club, and what we do is, every other month we go once and we basically teach the kids STEM concepts,” Pandian said. “Last year, we did paper airplanes, we did sound, we’ve done infraction of light; and it’s really cool, cause to them, these are all games, but they also get to learn from it.” 

Depicted here is one of the specific projects done with Ohana, the paper airplane experiment, which the team used to teach Ohana members aerodynamics and basic physics. Photo by Neel Griddalur | Used with Permission

In their collaboration with the Ohana club here on campus, MVRT is able to incorporate STEM curriculum and introduce science-related ideas to some of the underrepresented communities at MVHS. Additionally, the impact that these seemingly simple monthly science projects have on the club is incredible, as Ohana advisor Eli Yamauchi discusses just how inspirational the program has been. 

“I think it’s neat because it gives my Ohana kids a chance to see a different club, and do some hands on things with a purpose,” Yamauchi said. “So my kids may not have the courage to go to Robotics Club, but when Robotics comes to them, it kind of opens that world up for them, so they can say, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ And so that’s what Ohana’s all about, it’s just opening up the campus so all the kids feel like they’re a part of the MVHS campus.”

Beyond Monta Vista

Ohana is just one of the many programs that MVRT has implemented over the years; many of their programs have been initiated beyond the gates of MVHS as well. One of their ongoing projects involves local art academy Hongyun Art, through which they teach students how to create art projects through computer science using software systems. In fact, their projects with Hongyun even stretch to an international scale, as they plan on taking their project to Myanmar over the next year. Pandian shares that their project with Hongyun is not only to generate interest in STEM but also to bridge the gap between STEM and the arts.

“We also do something with Hongyun Art, which is a local art school,” Pandian said. “It’s to teach Scratch and Python to create art, cause it’s more than just STEM — STEM should include art, too.” 

As their project with Hongyun continues to expand, MVRT has also started programs in other East Asian countries; specifically, helping start and provide the resources for an FRC team in Taiwan. 

“We work with an organization in Taiwan called World Journal Organization, and we basically helped them create a team [in Taiwan],” Pandian said. “So they came over here and we taught them the basics of how do you create a team, how do you start from the beginning, what do you teach your members, etc..” 

MVRT’s robot demo for high school students from Taiwan. Portrayed here is one of the many workshops that MVRT conducted with their Taiwanese teams to demo a real-life robot. Photo by Neel Griddalur | Used with Permission

In fact, the specific Taiwanese team that MVRT helped found, Taipei 101, recently participated in the Hawaiian regional FRC competition and was able to come off the field with a winning record, a conclusion that MVRT hopes to see as they continue similar  international projects. 

Addressing the Gender Gap

One of the most prevalent issues in STEM fields today remains to be the gender gap between men and women. According to the National Science Foundation, women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce in today’s economy: an issue recognized and addressed by MVRT on the MVHS campus. One of their largest programs, “sisters in STEM” or SiSTEM, is targeted towards helping girls on the team feel more comfortable coming in and continuing work in science and engineering. Junior Naimisha Adira, another third-year member of the MVRT operations team, discusses how the team operates with and plans to expand this program over the next year.

“So we do SiSTEM, which is basically like our annual women in stem symposium for girls at our school — people at our school — but also the community to see that women can get into STEM,” Adira said. “We usually do once a year symposium, so we’re looking to do more than just one, and maybe making it like a conference style, just to increase interest and impact.” 

MVRT’s 2018 Women in STEM Symposium.  Pictured here is last year’s annual symposium, hosted at MVHS by MVRT. Photo by Neel Griddalur | Used with Permission

Hosted once a year by the team itself, the symposium is a community-wide event held at MVHS where women professionals within STEM fields are invited to share both their experiences and their struggles. Pandian explains that, in creating all of this support for female members on the team, the end goal is that they will each have the confidence and encouragement to continue into STEM careers.

“[Our goal is] making sure that even later on in college, at least for girls, they have connections with women in the field,” Pandian said. “We’re ensuring that they have a good foundation for STEM throughout their lives, and also that they have a community that they can come to if they need any help or anything at all.” 

Both Pandian and Adira share this sentiment, sharing that in the years to come, MVRT hopes to help other teams implement similar programs to help increase female participation and retention throughout First as a whole, which in turn translates into the workforce beyond high school. 

Looking Ahead

In the coming years, MVRT plans to undertake further projects to help create racial, ethnic and gender equality within STEM, including collaborations with Girl Scouts of the USA and a four-year college in Mauritius. In starting, supporting and furthering each of their projects, MVRT continues to take steps towards creating inclusivity in STEM, something that remains an arduous task for many, but is slowly being accomplished by a group of high schoolers on a mission.

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