Wahjay-STEM: Liberian students persevere through tough circumstances to be represented at the ‘Olympics of Robotics’ to showcase STEM ability

We made it Liberia! We made it to the VEX World’s Competition as team, Ahjay.   We had a middle school team of five students, from Buchanan City, Liberia’s World Wide Mission Academy School. The students took us all the way to what is called the ‘Olympics of Robotics’. We could not be prouder. The students had a fantastic American experience, thanks to the city of Louisville. The students were welcomed by the Louisville Liberian Association. The President of the Liberian Association of Louisville, Blyden Kennedy, Orsay Karnga, Ms. Emma Dunn, and Ms. Robertha Richards took care of the students’ meals to welcome them to the Louisville. Ms. Maryehdiah supervised the students upon their arrival for one week. Jenny Spalding, Board Member at large, treated the students to Thunder Over Louisville, to witness the best fireworks display in Kentucky and a baseball game. The Louisville Convention Services Manager, Brad Knapp, welcomed the students with a large brunch and complimentary tickets to the Sluggers Museum, downtown Louisville.

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The entertainment around Liberia’s first time getting represented in the World’s Competition came with its own set of trials.  Founder, Giewee Giah, discovered that although the students practiced the computer code given to them during their in-school lectures while in Liberia, the students were not prepared to compete in the autonomous section of the VEX Competition. The VEX World’s Competition required the completion of three competing sections: team alliance, autonomous, and teleoperated. Autonomous and teleoperated sections required some level of coding to be successful in scoring field points while competing against the other represented countries, Ethiopia, Egypt, Bahrain, China, USA, UK, etc. The story did not end well. The students missed their window for displaying their robot’s autonomous movements for points because they wanted to tweak their codes to their satisfaction.  However, there was an overwhelming feeling of fulfilment for Giewee in this instance. She believed that Wahjay-STEM accomplished what it had set out do.

Once Giewee found that the students were ill prepared for their autonomous skill component, she took some time with the students and teacher to explain how autonomous movement was done.  This time she was not hands-on, this is because she wanted the ownership of competing to belong to the students. She felt that she had done all that she could do in terms of equipping them, students and teacher, with the skills necessary to take their coding knowledge to the next level.  What she did was to showcase to the teacher what she meant by autonomous programming.  She set the robot on the field and asked the students, what code they would implement if they wanted the robot to turn left or right or to grab a hexball. The concept of what an autonomous program was came to life in front of the teacher, and a fire came into the children’s eyes. Once Giewee believed that the students and teacher understood the concept, she monitored the students’ progress and encouraged the teacher to follow her lead.

Each evening, the students had an 8:30pm bed time. Each evening the students prepared for bed to start an early morning for the following day. There was one evening, the last night before the last day of the competition, where the students stayed up past their bedtimes without the knowledge of the teacher, Mr. Onana Glassco and Wahjay-STEM founder, Giewee Giah. The last day of the competition arrived, and one of the students, Nyundeh Gorwor, chatted with Giewee while unpacking the rental car of fruits and sandwiches for lunch that day. He bragged, “We stayed up pasted our bed time.”  Giewee, concerned, asked for a reason why that occurred. Nyundeh responded, “We really needed to get our autonomous program done. We could pick up a hexball and make points. It even sat on the bridge to score the max points!”. Giewee smiled at Nyundeh. She was so happy that the students showed such a strong desire to finish their code and took their own initiative to make it happen.

When the students were turned away from competing in the autonomous section of the competition because they arrived too late to compete, Giewee, at first, felt disappointed on behalf of the children. Then she took a minute to think. “We won. Who could have done what these kids have done in such a short period of time, and under the circumstances that they had. Internet was spotty, teachers did not understand how to research for information to enhance their robot, some did not have basic email skills. Some teachers could not envision ideas past the lessons that were directly taught to them. Once the teachers understood that a manual could provide them with answers, they became too dependent on them…yet we still won. In three days the kids understood how to set up the coding for their own autonomous robot! The teachers now know that a manual is only a guidebook, creativity takes you further. I now understand that the teachers require better computer skills to take our students where they need to go. We won, in the midst of dry,  hard sand and dust, we planted a seed that grew one beautiful flower… we won.”

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Liberia came in last in the competition, yet we showed up. With the lessons learned from this competition, we hope to do much better in the next. Thank you for your support. The students are learning modern day skills necessary for tomorrow’s job market. Robots must be controlled by knowledge of programming, cypber security, etc.  Our students are already on their way. Liberia is now visible to the world, we are a country, committed to providing our students with skills necessary to thrive in the modern world.  Wahjay-STEM for Liberia! Thank you Nyonblee Cares Foundation for this partnership and opening up your school for Liberia’s first pilot on this scale. Senator Nyonblee, we appreciate you and your desire to push STEM in your county and nation.

 

Nyoblee

 

 

 

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