Micronesia Students Proudly Compete in Robotics “Olympics”


Three students from Yap State proudly represented the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) at an international high school robotics competition this July in Washington DC.

Natasha Loochaz, John Steven Gilinug, and Francis Yarofalyango, comprised Team Micronesia, and joined students from over 150 other nations at the event.

Over several months each team designed, built, and programmed, their own complex robot based on the same simple parts kit, bringing the robots to the FIRST Global Challenge in DC for the matches and exhibition. In the arena, robots were organized into teams of three, battling to quickly gather and sort plastic balls representing clean water and contaminated water.

The team from Yap featured three graduating seniors from Yap Catholic High School, who earned the privilege to compete as an all-star team based on their performance in the Habele Yap Robo League.

In the first round of competition in DC, the FSM Team joined Argentina and Kuwait in a match against Bulgaria, Japan, and Grenada. Then Micronesia, allied with Vietnam and Australia, battled Cameroon, Chile, and Sudan. The day ended with a match pitting Micronesia, Brazil and Kosovo against China, Bermuda and Bahrain. For the day, the FSM went two for three.

Early the second day Micronesia partnered with Uzbekistan and Bangladesh in a match with Uruguay, Turkmenistan and Norway. They next teamed up with Ghana and Madagascar opposite Cameroon, Zambia and a pan South American team. Their final match reunited the Micronesians with Kuwait, along side Gabon, to compete with Japan, the Czech Republic, and a pan-Asian team.

The Habele Yap Robo League began in 2011 thanks to Eagle Engineering, the robotics team from Chaminade College Preparatory, a high school in California. Ameilia Weiss, then a Chaminade student, identified the opportunity for high school robotics on Yap during a dive trip to Micronesia. Back at school, she organized donations of robotics parts and instructional materials as a Habele volunteer, getting the League up and running.

Early in 2017 the League was invited to field a team at the FIRST Global event. Over a few short months, the students scrambled to design, assemble, and program, a competition worthy robot from a kit and system very different than the Vex Robotics parts with which they had worked in the past.

Lee Webber, former president and publisher of Guam’s Pacific Daily News, sounded the call in an April column about the team’s goal to compete in DC, inviting readers across the region to donate toward the costs of provisioning, training, and sending the students.

In addition to several hundred individual donations made by US and FSM citizens through a Habele Go Fund Me webpage, generous corporate support was provided by Tim Waters & Associates, the JoDoCo Group, the Matson Foundation, College of Micronesia, Blue Sky Traders, and United Airlines.

Senators Isaac V. Figir and Joseph Urusemal of the Yap Congressional Delegation made supporting the students a high priority for the Congress of Micronesia. A pair of targeted appropriations was smartly shepherded through the complex federal legislative process to quickly ensure the Team could make it to DC.

Over the course of the FIRST Global event, Team Micronesia earned six match points and 347 competition points. Their final ranking (131st of 163 teams) put them well ahead of more resourced teams from developed nations with widespread robotics, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

The Micronesia team, and their mentor Gilippin Pongliyab, also met with FSM officials in DC, including Deputy Chief of Mission, Mr. James A Naich as well as former Peace Corps Volunteers who served in the Islands and Micronesian citizens living in and around DC.

In addition to the high stakes competitions, Natasha, John, and Francis, participated in elaborate Olympic-style opening and closing ceremonies, proudly carrying the four-stared flag of Micronesia. They also networked at workshops, forums, and team building activities with student teams from around the globe.

“The experience was a great one,” said Francis Yarofalyango, known to his Team Micronesia peers as “Cisco.” “Participating in the competition was inspiring, especially seeing so many young people pursuing the same goals as I am. Robotics is not only fun but it helps me connect to other people around the world.”

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