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SUNY Poly-led team of area refugees makes impact at robotics competition

By Journal Staff


Photo Credit: SUNY Polytechnic Institute

UTICA, N.Y. — A first-year robotics team made up of Utica–area refugees and led by SUNY Polytechnic Institute students “overcame numerous challenges” to place in the top 15 at a recent First Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics competition, the university announced.

Originally from Nigeria, Oghenekovie Evi-Parker (or Kovie as she’s known to friends) is a SUNY Poly senior majoring in mechanical engineering who started a robotics team at the Midtown Utica Community Center (MUCC) with Moe Zae, a junior majoring in computer science at SUNY Poly, as a way to introduce young refugees to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts and grow their interests as scientists.

“It is a tremendous source of pride for us at SUNY Poly to be able to reach out to the community and bring the knowledge and skills forged in our classrooms and labs to the next generation of young engineers,” said Dr. Bahgat Sammakia, interim president of SUNY Poly, said in a news release. “The students at the Midtown Utica Community Center faced numerous challenges while they sought to achieve their goal of forming a robotics team, but with the help and dedication of our students, together, they not only formed a team, but did so with stellar results.”

FTC teams are challenged to work together designing, building, programming, and operating robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge. Guided by coaches and mentors, the students develop STEM skills and practice engineering principles while realizing the “value of hard work, innovation, and sharing ideas,” SUNY Poly said. Teams use kits to create robots that can achieve goals set forth in new, annual competitions.

Creating a FIRST (for inspiration and recognition of science and technology) team came with many challenges, from recruitment to language barriers, as well as the obstacle of finding sufficient funding for the kits and materials needed to create the robots, the release noted. With the help of the Northeast Education and Technology Education Center (NEATEC), a grant through the National Science Foundation, helped procure the necessary materials needed to construct their robot, so the team could take part in the competition qualifier this past fall. The competition process also included a requirement for each team to meet with judges and make a presentation of their journey, engaging participants while building their public-speaking abilities. 

Together, Kovie and Moe led the team of 11 to 17-year-old refugees to 13th place among the 23 robotics teams competing at the FTC Robotics Competition qualifier at Sauquoit Valley High School in Sauquoit. The team also took home the Judges Award, given at the discretion of the judges to a team whose “unique efforts, performance, or dynamics merit recognition, even though the team does not fit into any existing award categories.”

“This team’s award is for exceptional teamwork,” said the competition judges. “They crossed international borders and language barriers. They reached out in their community to share their newfound love of STEM.”

In March, SUNY Poly will host the multi-day Central New York 2018 Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in the Wildcat Field House on the institution’s Utica campus, bringing an expected 2,500 students to the Utica area from around the world, along with their families, mentors, and volunteers. This FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a head-to-head competition for students in grades 9 through 12 on a special playing field with robots they have designed, built, and programmed, the university said.

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