After more than 150 hours of brainstorming and building, the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science robotics team could breathe a sigh of relief.
The group, consisting of sophomores Kai Tinsley, Jesus Davaloz, Marcus Seawright Jr. and George Baidoo Jr. had the opportunity to take their fully functioning robotic arm to the 2014 National MESA competition in Portland this past June, where they came in second place.
The journey was a long road for the students, who had been working since last year to design, plan and construct the arm. It was also the first time that a robotics team from the school, built in 1979 in partnership with Temple, had competed at the National MESA’s.
“It was something that the kids were really building up towards and we felt very confident and ready for the competition,” said Ted Domers, the school’s prinicpal.
In April, the team received first place at the Pennsylvania MESA competition held at Temple’s College of Engineering, qualifying them to represent Temple and the Pennsylvania MESA at nationals.
Domers said that the project was entirely extracurricular, with the students sometimes staying at school until 6 p.m. The students also had full responsibility for the design plan and what materials to use in the construction.
“So much of what [the students] did was completely intuitive – coming from their own creativity,” Domers said. “It wasn’t something that they did over one weekend. They spent time on it, they collaborated on it.”
Some of the group members had to balance additional after school activities, as well as a full course load, which Domers said often includes multiple AP courses for students.
Baidoo, who joined the team last year as a replacement for a former member, said that understanding how difficult the competition would be at every stage is what helped keep him going.
“I knew it would only get tougher after [the Pennsylvania MESA competition], so I kept my game face on,” Baidoo said.
At the national competition, students were expected to complete a series of tasks using the robotic arm. Baidoo said that creating prototypes for each scenario was the most time consuming part of the project, taking up 76 of the 150 total hours.
Although they spent an enormous amount of time and energy on preparing for every situation the judges could throw at them, Baidoo said that an idea from Davaloz, the team’s leader, is what put the group over the edge.
“I think one thing the judges saw in us was the revolutionary idea that our leader [Davaloz] came up with: to add the blood pressure cuff,” Baidoo said. “This was new because you [have] an item that can now be made to adjust to numerous sizes of arms. That was just phenomenal.”
For Domers and other faculty members at the school, the win has been particularly meaningful because of the difficulties that the Philadelphia school district has faced in recent years and the tendency to overlook students from the city at competitions like this.
“There are many programs like ours throughout the city that deserve recognition, especially in light of the financial turmoil in the district now,” John Ciccarelli, a science teacher at George Washington Carver, said. “These are powerful success stories that demonstrate what our kids can do and how great and deserving they are.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Alexa_Bricker17