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Students of undocumented parents beat out M.I.T. in robotics competition

A documentary was presented at Queens College concerning the challenges minority students face in America while striving to achieve academic success.

Underwater Dreams is about how a team of Mexican students from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix Arizona, children of undocumented workers, managed to defeat prestigious colleges, including M.I.T., in a robotics competition in 2004. The documentary also follows their journeys after their victory.

This film touches on issues regarding undocumented immigration including the implications and continuing conversation around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, ballot measures restricting undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition in certain states, and policies affecting the ability of undocumented students to seek employment after college.

The film was presented by the CUNY Service Corps and hosted by César E. Oyervides-Cisneros, QC Service Corps Manager. A discussion panel followed, moderated by Associate Professor at the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, Anahi Viladrich.

In order to gain state support, the high school decided to enter a college level robotics competition, sponsored by NASA and the Office of Naval Research, among other organizations.

“I was sure we were going to lose,” one of the Carl Hayden science teachers said.

The team used tools from Home Depot to try to make a robot that could respond to commands underwater. They encountered various problems, including leakage. The team utilized unique solutions, including using tampons to absorb the water leaking into the robot.

The team passed all phases of the competition, ultimately being awarded first place overall.

Their victory inspired other students to participate in leadership roles and start doing work around the community.

“For the Carl Hayden team, robotics was never just about building a robot, it was about building a culture, of taking responsibility, of giving back,” the narrator said.

Current challenges facing undocumented workers are laws such as Proposition 300 that target undocumented people in Arizona. Restrictions include removing state assistance to attend college.

“Just knowing you can’t do something because you’re like a piece of paper is pretty devastating” one of the team members said.

The team has influenced other students to participate in academics as well as fight for the chance to gain quality education and employment.

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