SAN LEANDRO, Calif. (KRON) — Students in the robotics club at San Leandro High School received a big honor by taking home the top spot in a tense competition at UC Berkeley.
The team faced several challenges. The biggest was the sudden death of their mentor Mr. Nava.
It was that same setback that helped push them forward and bring home the win for him.
The team’s winning robot was built from scratch by San Leandro High School’s Makers Club with the help and guidance of Nava who encouraged more girls to join the team and learn new skills in STEM.
Josclyn Avalos checked it out and decided to join not knowing she would be part of the group to bring home a win for the first time in years.
“I got to be a little more out of my comfort zone, and start talking to people, learn to work as a team and overcome challenges together instead of just by myself,” said San Leandro High School junior Jocyln Avalos.
It was a tough journey for the entire team — made tougher by an abrupt and devastating loss. Nava was killed in a motorcycle crash last spring, leaving the students with heavy hearts and half the time to get ready to compete.
As if the group didn’t have enough challenges, they decided to make the robot partly autonomous, and that’s what gave them the edge in the competition.
It was the idea of former San Leandro High grad Martín Martínez who went on to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He came back to mentor the kids when he learned of Nava’s sudden death.
“I am also trying to glorify somebody who just passed at the same time while we have a very intense work schedule trying to win while only having half the time any other team would have,” Martínez said.
Several students stepped up putting in up to 6 hours per day for the three weeks they had left to prepare. They ran into trouble in the middle of competition but were able to troubleshoot with five minutes left on the clock just in time to secure the win.
“It was nerve-wracking, but it was incredibly fun and it was something that I could use to increase my skills and be able to break into an industry that I’m actually really interested in doing,” said San Leandro High School senior Matteo Torres-Cohen. “It’s something that I think I will reap the benefits from for years to come.”
“We really did in main part in honor of Mr. Nava’s life and I think that is something that is really cool and also that I’m very proud of,” Torres-Cohen said.