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Nea and ACLC Charter Schools Win Awards in Robotics Competition

by Bara Waters

Every spring, high school teams from all over the East Bay and San Francisco face off in in the Pioneers in Engineering (PiE) Robotics Competition, a fun but intense tournament held at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. 24 teams design and build remote-controlled robots to compete in a new yearly challenge intended to test students’ skills in teamwork, engineering design and leadership, with various awards given to recognize team accomplishments.

“Judging this year was the hardest I’ve ever experienced,” said Brian Harvey, a PiE judge for the past four years. “It was difficult because there were so many outstanding designs and participants.”

This year’s Award recipients were: Nea Community Learning Center – Mechanical Design; Alameda Community Learning Center – Agilent Spirit; Berkeley High – Engineering Professionalism; De Anza High – Software, Sensors, and Control; and Albany High – Judges’ Award.

“This competition bridges the gap between high schools, college and the engineering industry in one exciting program,” said PiE Director, Samuel Fung. “It’s a great way to encourage student interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects and have fun doing it.”

The PiE Robotics Competition is the culmination of an 8-week program in which college-age mentors teach weekly hands-on STEM lessons to area high school teams to help prepare them for the spring event. Each high school team is matched with a group of college mentors for the duration of the prep period.

“Our students gain great experience building and programming their robot, and benefit from the close friendships formed with their mentors,” said Patricia Williamson, science and math facilitator at the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC), an annual participant in the competition.

The non-profit PiE program is run entirely by UC Berkeley engineering students from engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, who mentor and create the robotics kits for each team, design and build the competition field, and fundraise each year to make it all possible. It was started in 2008 by Xiao-Yu Fu (UC Berkeley ’09) as a way to merge his love of robots with his passion for education.

Over 300 high school students and 100 college-age mentors participate each year.

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