"Yap Robo Day" Robotics Competition in Micronesia

High school students in Yap, Micronesia held an inaugural robotics exhibition last week, ushering in a new era in math, science and engineering education on the remote Pacific Island.

Student teams from Yap Catholic High School and Yap SDA school designed and built robots from VEX robotics over the course of the 2011-12 school year. The kits were a gift from the Habele Outer Island Education Fund. The schools also received instructional materials from Habele as well as remote technical support from US students attending Chaminade Prep in California.

"Yap Robo Day" as it was called, was held at the Community Center in Colonia, Yap. Nearly 100 parents, students, educators and public officials came to watch and support the teams. Their robots were able to pick up plastic rings, carry these across the arena, and carefully position the rings onto small poles of different heights.

Despite weeks of careful planning and preparation, both teams faced a range of minor technical challenges the day of the event. Motors overheated, remote control frequencies overlapped and certain robot parts did not function exactly as planned. Still, the exhibit provided both teams a chance to show their families and members of the community all their hard work.

"This was a great day for the students," explained Larry Raigetal of Habele. "We saw real science on display as both teams used reasoning and experimental observation to identify problems, make corrections, and integrate new knowledge into what they'd already learned."

Rev. Michael P. Corcoran, S.J., the principal at Yap Catholic High School, echoed Raigetal's excitement. "Looking back on the whole experience, I must say that it was excellent for our students."

"Our students had a sense of pride and accomplishment,' Corcoran continued. "I think the final-week's frustrations and consequent adjustments were one of the best  aspects of the whole semester.  It was like watching engineers deal with real world problems!"

Habele has already begun to solicit donations in order to fund the program for the 2012-13 school year. The US-based organization also supports low-income students enrolled at Yap Catholic and other private schools across Micronesia through tuition scholarships. The charity was established by former Peace Corps Volunteers and  does not seek -and will not accept- funding from government sources. This year it also awarded funds to Waa'gey, a program that passes on traditional skills of canoe carving and weaving to students on Yap.

"We have limited resources, but we will continue to target them to programs and projects that work for students," explained Neil Mellen, a US-based Habele Director. "Too few students graduate from high school in Micronesia, and just a fraction of those who do are career or college ready. The success of the robotics teams remind us that every student across the Pacific is capable of excellence."

Check out the Micronesia 101 infographic to learn all about the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).