Guam students showcase skills in robotics competition

This year marked the 5th anniversary of the ROV competition. (PNC photo)

The 2021 Mate Guam Regional ROV competition was held Friday, where many of Guam’s youths showcased their hand-built robotics.

This year marked the 5th anniversary of the ROV competition, made possible by Dr. Leah Beth Nahalowaa, the project director of the college pathway program of curriculum and instruction at the Guam Department of Education and the regional coordinator for Guam’s regional ROV competition. Throughout the years, Dr. Leah has introduced opportunities for Guam’s teachers to be trained in robotics and develop a STEM curriculum.

According to Dr. Leah, this year’s competition was extremely challenging due to COVID. Unfortunately, student teams were unable to meet to practice, and the closure of Guam’s public swimming pools made it difficult to plan where the competition would take place. Fortunately, a staff member from Tiyan high school offered his home’s pool to host the competition, and student teams continued to develop their robotics once social restrictions began to lift.

“It has been really challenging because of COVID. Kids are not able to meet to practice— But the kids have been wanting to have this competition— so they worked hard, we provided safety protocols—we made them sign a waiver to make sure everything is safe— and surprisingly, they came up with a very very nice robot,” Nahalowaa said.

Despite the pandemic, this year’s turnout was excellent, with three middle schools and two high school teams competing. The competing middle school teams included Jose Rios, Untalan, and Benavente Middle School— and from the high school teams, Okkodo and Tiyan High school.

This year, students were tasked with creating hand-built remotely operated underwater vehicles that would combat environmental changes impacting the world’s oceans and corals. Student teams competed under three levels: scout, navigators, and rangers, with expectations for their robotics to perform a series of challenges under 15 minutes. According to Dr. Nahalowaa, this is the first year that one of Guam’s high school teams will compete in a ranger competition, which is the highest level of competition.

Amongst the standout student competitors is Tiyan High school senior Lexis Sablan. Sablan and her team placed in the ranger division and created a custom printed circuit board and control box designed to compete against teams in the national championships. Out of 100 other qualified students, Sablan was awarded a $40,000 scholarship and internship with Amazon, as well as a full-ride scholarship to Columbia University, where she will study computer science.

When asked about the importance of having young women and men involved in STEM, Sablan stated: “I’ve always been a strong advocate for women in STEM. I’ve mentored a lot of girls and inspired them to get into STEM and robotics. So, I really feel like I’m setting the precedent and inspiring not even just young girls, but the students of this island to get into those male-dominated fields, and getting into top universities, and getting into fields that may not be predominant on this island.”

Dr. Leah says that she believes in the power of Guam’s youth getting involved in STEM and is hopeful that more students will be able to participate in next year’s ROV competition.