BC hosted former teacher Fredi Lajvardi on a Zoom session on Sept. 3, where he discussed how he helped make an inner-city high school’s robotics team into nationwide champions.
After graduating from Arizona State University, Lajvardi was persuaded by a former teacher of his to become a teacher himself. Lajvardi got a teaching job at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, AZ.
Carl Hayden Community High School was an inner-city school known for having low test grades and one of the highest Hispanic student rates.
Even though the school had a negative reputation, this did not discourage Lajvardi. He pressed on with one goal in mind.
“I wanted to make education fun,” Lajvardi said.
He started by making an electric car club, where students would learn to build them and enter them in a competition. Sadly, the competition only lasted a few years, due to electric cars going out of style. So, it was up to Lajvardi to find a new competition for his students to be a part of.
It was important to Lajvardi to find a competition that would be year-round. The reason for this is that he didn’t want his students to get mixed up with the wrong crowd around town and instead focus their attention on something educational.
After searching for a while, Lajvardi found his perfect option in “MATE’s Underwater Robotics Competition.” The best thing was that the competition started in the fall and ended in midsummer.
Once he found the perfect competition, Lajvardi needed the right crew to join his team. He was able to get students Oscar Vazquez, Luis Aranda, Lorenzo Santillan, and Cristian Arcega to join the club. Another teacher by the name of Allan Cameron joined Lajvardi to help lead the club.
While building the robot, the most difficult obstacle was not knowing how to build it but trying to get supplies to make it.
“The hardest thing was finding materials due to lack of money,” Lajvardi said.
After months of studying and building, the team was ready to compete. They even gave the robot a name “Stinky,” due to the smelly glue they used to keep it together.
The team traveled to UC Santa Barbra in CA, where the competition was being held. Upon arrival, the team major noticed differences in their robot compared to the rest. A big difference was that their robot had the battery on top of it, while the others had theirs on the surface.
The team decided to enter the university category rather than the high school one because they thought it would look better to lose to a university than to another high school.
After competing in a series of challenges, the team finished in 3rd place, with them still having to do an oral presentation.
After completing the presentation, it was time for the judges to announce the winner.
Before they announced it though, the judges granted Carl Hayden High School with a first-ever “special achievement award,” which the team thought was a pity award.
After given the award, the team figured they had lost the competition until the judges announced that they placed 1st.
The team had even managed to beat MIT in the competition.
In 2008 the team was inducted into the US Robotics Hall of Fame and they even had a feature film “Spare Parts,” released in 2015.
“My motto is you can do whatever you want to do, but it’s up to you if you fail or succeed,” Lajvardi said.