St. Petersburg College education graduate Daniel Conrad is making a difference by challenging students who live in a remote Utah community to believe they can do anything.
“Motivation, determination and imagination,” is what Conrad, an advisor/science teacher coaches to his students who are competing in multiple rounds of what’s called a “First Robotics Competition.” Conrad is a 2014 SPC Middle Grades Science grad who currently teaches at Navajo Mountain High School.
100 miles from the nearest grocery store
Navajo Mountain High School in Utah is located near the Arizona border and is one of the most remote in the continental United States. The school has 32 enrolled students who are Navajo. The staff consists of five teachers, one librarian, and one assistant teacher.
The area’s community are a self-sufficient enclave of hardy individuals.
The majority of people who live in the area have no running water, and there is one paved road in and out of the community. The nearest gas station/convenience store is more than 30 miles away. The nearest grocery store is in Page, AZ, about 100 miles away. Internet access is only available at the school.
The school’s Robotics Team, made up of 40 percent of the student population, are determined to succeed even when facing adversity.
Their first obstacle – not receiving their kit until one week after kickoff due to a snow storm. Students had to use critical thinking and learn new skills, stretching beyond what they thought they were capable of. With the nearest Home Depot about 170 miles away, they had to make due with scraps to substitute for materials they lacked.
Since their mentor and the team lacked experience, there was much trial and error. Competitors worked for six weeks to design, build, program and test their robots. This year the competition’s theme was based on the science-fiction genre steampunk, which involves mixing old and new technology.
For the competition, robots need to complete several tasks, including catching large gears and driving across the competition field — dubbed “the pit” — then placing gears on pegs and climbing rope. Sophomore Nahida Smith, proudly watched the robot move driven by her code who helped program Navajo’s robot. “I didn’t know I could do this,” Smith said.
Briana Bitsinnie, a 17-year-old junior on the team, welded metal scraps to build the cage, which holds in the workings of the machine. She has a 23-mile commute to and from the school.
Determination to Overcome
On March 27, Conrad and the team were off to Idaho for the first Idaho Regional Robotics Competition at Boise State University. They finished in 9th place and won the Rookie All Star Award.
Winning this moves the team to an invitation to the First Championships in Houston, Texas that begins April 19. To meet their goal to participate, Conrad and the team are raising funds to go to Houston.
Competing isn’t Conrad or the team’s only mission. They also started a LEGO Robotics Team for the local community school to introduce STEAM education and inspire other young people to become leaders in science and technology.
STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.
Their long term goals involve revolutionizing education at both community schools and start programs at other Native American schools.
The next chapter
Stay tuned for Part II of how the Robotics Team rank in Houston and how Conrad ended up at this tiny remote school where he is making a difference and motivating students every day!