Students from 153 nations will gather in Washington DC this summer for the international high school robotics Olympics. Few will have traveled as far –geographically or culturally– as the Robo League team from Yap.
The FIRST Global Challenge is a worldwide robotics competition. Small student teams design, build, and compete complex robots from simple parts. The work demands hands-on mastery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills. Featuring teams from across the planet, it also serves as a forum for students to meet and partner with diverse international peers.
Students in Yap –a remote Micronesian Island most famous for its Stone Money– established their own Robotics League in 2011, holding Micronesia’s first public exhibition in summer of 2012.
Organized by US-based NGO “Habele,” the Yap Robo League remains the only coordinated multi-year robotics program in the Central or Western Pacific. It has grown and thrived through a defining partnership with a robotics team at Chaminade College Preparatory School, in Los Angeles, California. In-kind gifts of time and talent, as well as private donations and local fundraisers entirely finance the league.
The all-star team headed to the FIRST Global Challenge is comprised of three high school seniors from Yap Catholic High School, winners of the 2016 Habele Robo League Championship. They will spend nearly a week in the US Capital, participating in a lavish international opening ceremony, a series of robotics exhibitions, competitions, and eliminations, as well as tours and team building exercises with students from around the world.
“Since 2011, hardworking students, educators, and community members have grown and sustained one the Pacific’s most exceptional –and most popular– educational programs,” observed Alex Sidles, a Habele Director. “Invitation to the Global Challenge is just the latest testimony to the accomplishments and ambitions of the Yap Robo League, and its innovative focus on competition, incentives, and accountability.”
The many tiny islands of Micronesia are home to a semi cash economy, primarily comprised of subsistence agriculture and fishing. Their remoteness and relative lack of resources limits formal economic growth and opportunities. However, they place great emphasis on preserving cultural practices while learning modern technology.
Widely studied in the West, Yapese stone money, or "Rai," are an example. The large, circular stone disks have been used for centuries as currency. The system relies on oral histories of ownership because the carved stones are too large to move.
One project to sustain traditional practices is “Waa’gey,” an after school cultural skills program. Many Yap Robo League students participate, receiving instruction on-campus and after-school from Waa’gey mentors in centuries old Carolinian carving and sailing techniques.
“There are many connections between the techniques of canoe building and celestial navigation and the skills students develop with these robots,” explained Master Navigator Larry Raigetal. “The outside world’s increasing focus on so-called STEM instruction is, for us, something of a return to the way we’ve always understand knowledge and building. I hope our young people take that insight with them to Washington.”