By Gregory Jouvenat
The College of Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona hosted a Robot Rally at the Darlene May Gym on Friday for middle and elementary school students from local school districts. Almost 900 children from surrounding elementary and middle schools in Pomona gathered in the gym to show off the robots that they built.
In addition to showcasing the results of their efforts, the students had the opportunity to test their completed robots in different activities and competitions.
One of these activities was a follow the line challenge. A robot was placed on a line of electrical tape and it had to navigate to the end as fast as possible. There was also an obstacle event where students had to program their own robots to navigate around course.
The main event at the rally was a sumo wrestling competition, where students faced off against an opposing team. Each robot tried to autonomously knock the other out of the arena.
Israel Vasquez, Steven Jimenez and Osiel Madrid from Cortez Elementary School took home the first place trophy in the sumo competition. Calling themselves Mexican 360, this was their first year coming into first place at the Robot Rally.
“These kids get so excited,” said Kyle Joseph Dominguez (’12, aerospace engineering), one of the volunteers for the rally. “I wish I had this when I was in middle school or elementary school because I would have gone into robotics so much sooner. I didn’t start doing it until college. It’s really cool because they are so happy, and they are so excited. You can see them that when they are winning or when they are disqualified they are still happy because they’ve come here and had so much fun.
“I love seeing this enthusiasm in kids this young being inspired by [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], and I hope they go on to more of this,” added Dominguez.
Dominguez has been volunteering at the Robot Rally for eight years. His job was to run the sumo competition this year. He hopes to have cameras over the sumo arena in future rallies so that everyone can see the action. He also wants the sumo teams to have pagers so that they know when they are next in line to compete.
Mariappan “Jawa” Jawaharlal, a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department, founded the Robot Rally. He started teaching at CPP in 2003 and has been here for 13 years. In addition to teaching engineering design classes, he cites working with K-12 students as one of his passions.
Jawaharlal got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Russia. He got his doctorate in engineering in 1994 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“To make a long story short, education is boring,” said Jawaharlal. “You go to college, most of the courses you don’t know what you are doing. I was like that. When I was in graduate school or middle school I never understood why we learned what we learned. It didn’t make any sense to me. I just did it because if you don’t do well you will not be successful or get a job.”
“That’s not the way education should be. Education should be a little bit more meaningful, fun and hands on. I believe 100 percent that learning is a fun activity. Anytime you learn something you feel good,” added Jawaharlal.
This belief served as the inspiration behind Jawaharlal’s founding of the CPP Robot Rally. Jawaharlal wanted to create a fun and hands on way for kids to get involved with STEM.
After the events, trophies were handed out to all of the children that participated in the Robot Rally. University President Soraya Coley, Vice President of the Division Academic Affairs and Provost Sylvia Alva and other officials were in attendance at the ceremony.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Coley. “I understand that this is the largest event of its type in the United States, and certainly, it plays into the values that we have of extending ourselves, our expertise and forming partnerships with school districts. This really does speak to helping children seize future work and future opportunities.”
Malak Habbak / The Poly Post
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