It’s the real-life, true story of a robotics teacher and four high school students in Phoenix, Arizona, three of whom were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Ten years ago, Wired contributing editor Joshua Davis received a “clumsily formatted” email describing an underwater robot competition, funded by NASA, in which the undocumented immigrants beat MIT to win the gold in the competition.
It’s a pretty amazing and inspiring underdog story. The competition included a technical writing award, which the students won. As the winners were announced, the students couldn’t believe it: “Us illiterate people from the desert?”
When the Wired story was published, it mentioned that three of the young men who won the robot competition didn’t qualify for federal student loans because of their immigration status. So, the magazine’s readers raised more than $90,000 in scholarships for those students, enabling them to succeed today in various careers in mechanics, the culinary industry, and entrepreneurship.
Spare Parts, starring George Lopez and Carlos PenaVega, retells the tale of the students and their teacher, Fredi Lajvardi. Just this week, Lajvardi gave a presentation here in Nebraska at the North Platte Community Playhouse as part of the Town Lecture Series. According to the North Platte Telegraph, Lajvardi has spent more than two decades engaging, motivating, challenging, and mentoring the underserved students (many of whom were undocumented immigrants) at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona.
Initially, the story was made into a documentary, Underwater Dreams. The documentary was even selected by President Obama in honor of National Robotics Week in March 2015 before being adapted into the major motion picture, Spare Parts. The movie depicts the four Hispanic high school students who built a robot (with no experience, $800, and used car parts) that beat the country’s reigning robotics champion, which is a pretty extraordinary tale.
“This is a story about grit, resiliency, inspiration and finding talent in places that you might not expect. These kids are extraordinary, but they are representative of hundreds of thousands of similarly situated kids capable of great things,” producer Mary Mazzio said in a radio interview. “If you go to Carl Hayden today, there are kids saying I want to go to college and study engineering. They are throwing around engineering terms like cookies.”
Even if you were unable to hear Lajvardi speak in Nebraska, it’s worth taking a look at the film, especially if you’re interested in STEM. It certainly proves that anyone, anywhere, is capable of succeeding in STEM fields with hard work and resilience.
Photo credit: Lionsgate