In October 2019, 11 students will make the journey of a lifetime to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge as the Cayman Islands National Robotics Team.

Caylem Hill and Jack McGregor (Cayman International School), Pierce Serrant (Cayman Islands Further Education Centre), Xaria Deosaran and Adrian Phillips-Hernáez (Cayman Prep and High School), Craig Maitland and Edmund Pileta (Clifton Hunter High School), Oscar Martinez (Grace Christian Academy), Samuel White (John Gray High School), and Kieran Finch and Nilakni Jayasekera (St. Ignatius Catholic School) will travel to Dubai, UAE, to compete in the international robotics tournament from 24 to 27 October.

The students qualified for nomination to the National Team following their participation in the “Rover Ruckus” FIRST Technical Challenge held in May at the Camana Bay Arts & Recreation Centre. Following the local competition, teachers and teammates were encouraged to nominate students who best exemplified excellence in technical ability, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and task organisation for consideration.

Dart Senior Manager Education Programmes Glenda McTaggart says the nominated students went through a rigorous selection process.

“Nominees were evaluated for their commitment to their school’s robotics programme and the level of teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship and leadership demonstrated during their participation in the “Rover Ruckus” tournament,” she says, explaining that the shortlisted nominees were then interviewed by a panel consisting of two science teachers and two sponsor representatives.

“The students chosen to represent Cayman internationally are passionate about STEM and they convinced the selection committee that they will make the most of this opportunity to work as team to build an amazing robot and represent their country on the world’s stage,” McTaggart says.

Alongside McTaggart, technical mentors supporting the team as they build their robot and compete in Dubai include: Von Ryan Abrantes (St. Ignatius Catholic School), Allison Smith (Cayman Prep and High School) and Namitha Abraham (Caribbean Utilities Company).

FIRST Things First

FIRST robotics programming was officially introduced to the Cayman Islands earlier this year through a partnership with Aureum Re, Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC), Digicel, and Health City Cayman.

Dart Chief Executive Officer Mark VanDevelde says the five companies share a common goal in ensuring the next generation is prepared to fill the jobs of the future.

“The mission of Minds Inspired is to provide our young people with unique STEM learning experiences that prepare them for the careers of the future and the challenges of tomorrow. This partnership leverages our combined financial resources and diverse areas of expertise to create learning and innovation opportunities for middle and high school students” he says, adding that Dart’s focus on STEM is rooted in the Dart family’s belief that these subjects are fundamental building blocks for success in school and life.

Each of the sponsoring companies is associated with one of the STEM subjects: Health City Cayman Islands represents science, Digicel represents technology, CUC represents engineering, and Aureum Re represents mathematics.

“As Cayman’s economy continues to evolve, the local demand for STEM jobs – and to be more specific for jobs which use robotics and artificial intelligence – will continue to increase,” VanDevelde says. “Our organisations share a common goal in ensuring our young people are prepared to fill those roles.”

Let the Games Begin

Considered the Olympics of robotics, the FIRST Global Challenge is themed around the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering identified by the National Academy of Engineering and empowers young people to use STEM to solve global problems like access to clean water and sustainable energy resources.

McTaggart says this year’s theme – “Ocean Opportunities” – is particularly relevant to the Cayman team.

“This year’s game brings attention to the global challenge of ocean pollution,” she explains. “The robot the team designs will need to be able to remove 30 micro pollutants and 50 macro pollutants, represented by small and large foam balls, from the playing field.”

The team will score points by transferring the pollutants to two types of processing areas located in the ocean—the processing barge and the reduction processing hub. The teams score points by depositing pollutants on the three levels – recover, recycle, reuse – each representing different degrees of processing.

In keeping with the collaborative spirit of FIRST, while each team is responsible for keeping its own shoreline clear of pollutants, they must join forces to protect the ocean. Just as in the FIRST Technical Challenge, the Cayman team will have the opportunity to work as part of alliances with teams representing more than 175 nations.

“FIRST is guided by the philosophies of ‘Gracious Professionalism’ and ‘Coopertition’ which teach students that fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions, and that teams can and should help each other even as they compete,’ McTaggart says. “FIRST is more than robots, it’s about transforming lives through STEM.”

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