Incredible journey

In La Vida Robot, Wired tells the story of a team of undocumented Mexican immigrants at a West Phoenix high school who competed in a contest to build an underwater robot that could survey a model of a sunken submarine.

. . . in a second-floor windowless room, four students huddle around an odd, 3-foot-tall frame constructed of PVC pipe. They have equipped it with propellers, cameras, lights, a laser, depth detectors, pumps, an underwater microphone, and an articulated pincer. At the top sits a black, waterproof briefcase containing a nest of hacked processors, minuscule fans, and LEDs. It’s a cheap but astoundingly functional underwater robot capable of recording sonar pings and retrieving objects 50 feet below the surface. The four teenagers who built it are all undocumented Mexican immigrants who came to this country through tunnels or hidden in the backseats of cars. They live in sheds and rooms without electricity. But over three days last summer, these kids from the desert proved they are among the smartest young underwater engineers in the country.

Teachers entered the team in “the expert-level Explorer class instead of the beginner Ranger class. They figured their students would lose anyway, and there was more honor in losing to the college kids in the Explorer division than to the high schoolers in Ranger.”

With the help of some OB tampons to plug a last-minute leak, they went up against MIT — and won.

Read the whole story. It’s fantastic. Here’s a link to contribute to the scholarship fund for the four team members, who aren’t eligible for financial aid or in-state tuition because they’re not legal residents.

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  1. Being here illegally, shouldn’t they be deported?

  2. I bet there are a *lot* of kids who don’t respond well to normal schoolwork who would respond to the challenge of building something.

    One fairly easy way to get started with this kind of thing is with the Lego Mindstorms kits, which provide for computer control of motors, sensors, etc. The prices are very reasonable. I think much of the $ now being spent on elaborate laptop/desktop computers and networking would be better spent on these little things…

  3. Ryland wrote:

    Being here illegally, shouldn’t they be deported?


    On the other hand, a story like this has to be carefully ignored by all the excuse-producers for the public education system. Might get people thinking that it isn’t so much the low socio-economic status that’s responsible for the lousy education kids like this get as it is some, oh, other factor. There are bunchs of stories like this.

    photoncourier wrote:

    I bet there are a *lot* of kids who don’t respond well to normal schoolwork…

    Well sure. That’s why the deep irony is that an organizational structure that’s least able to deal with human variability is in charge of something as utterly human as education.

  4. “Being here illegally, shouldn’t they be deported?”

    En absoluto! But how about this? Illegals that maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher get to stay. Deport the others, including the parent(s), aunt, uncle, cousin, or whatnot that sneaked across the border with them. Siblings have to maintain a cumulative 2.5 or get the boot. Of course it’ll never work. I’m just fantasizing about how great my English classes would be if all the f**k-ups suddenly disappeared.

  5. I would love for someone to actually follow the laws like they are supposed to. Deport the lot, family and all, like federal immigration laws say.

  6. Half Canadian says:

    If I were an engineering firm, I’d sponsor them and take them on as apprentices.
    If they still do that sort of thing, mind you.
    However, if Mexico had its act together, they’d pony up the money for their college education. They need to keep the smart ones if they want to make any progress.

  7. Very heartwarming, but I hate that euphemism “undocumented Mexican immigrants”, which implies that these people are victims of bookkeeping errors at DHS rather than the felons they are.

    The term you used is a slap in the face to real immigrants, who actually respect the laws of the US and jump through legal hoops for several years before getting immigrant status.

  8. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:

    boo, read the story through. If you think that kids who were smuggled to the US by their parents are “felons,” what exactly is it that you would have had them do? Run away from home and get back across the Mexican border so as to be in compliance with the law again? One of these kids was six years old when brought here, according to the story. Another was twelve. Say that they should be shipped back to Mexico if you like, but don’t call kids “felons” because they’re in the US illegally when they had absolutely no way of avoiding coming here.

  9. Matthew Tabor says:

    I’m kind of shocked that such an incredible story resulted in a series of comments about the students’ immigration/resident status.

    Is anyone willing to post about what they accomplished, or should I do that tomorrow when you guys are finished?

  10. Why? Illegal border-crossing has been a problem for years, it’s a problem that’s growing and it’s a problem that hasn’t generated much in the way of official response.

    If you want something to be shocked about then contemplate the response from the professional community:

    – Will the teacher, Allan Cameron, who sparked this accomplishment be fielding calls from excited and interested teachers across the country?

    – Will the administration of Carl Hayden Community High School have to weigh whether their duty is to the larger education community or to their own students when they have to decide how to handle the flood of requests for opportunities to observe Cameron while he teachs?

    – Will Mr. Cameron set up seminars to help teachers across the nation duplicate his accomplishment?

    – How far in advance will you have to book to get into one of those seminars?


    What requests?


    You’re kidding, right?

    If you want something to be shocked about be shocked that this accomplishment will generate little interest and no efforts at emulation.

  11. Ionfairy says:

    I feel the same way about those kids as I do about
    the fellows from Cuba who floated over here on
    a pickup truck with a propeller welded to the driveshaft. Instead of blowing up their “ship” and sending them back we should have tried to find a place for such mechanically talented problem-solvers.

  12. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:


    I feel the same way about those kids as I do about
    the fellows from Cuba who floated over here on
    a pickup truck with a propeller welded to the driveshaft. Instead of blowing up their “ship” and sending them back we should have tried to find a place for such mechanically talented problem-solvers.

    Amen to that.

  13. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Re: the ‘undocumented’ ( translation: illegal) immigrant kids who built the underwater contraption….what a heartwarming story. One problem–they’re still illegally living here and attending public school….deport them, let them take a number in line with the other legal immigrants and proceed into the USA in an orderly and legal process. (I teach elementary school and even 2nd graders know it’s wrong to ‘take cuts’ in line!) In the meantime, those students can contribute their expertise to their native countries, thus alleviating the need to export illegal aliens to the U.S. in the first place.

  14. As a teacher, I applaud the achievement of these young people. I am familar with the ‘environment’ around Carl Hayden HS; it is very commendable that these young people are working towards educational goals and not selling weed or meth at the corner of 35th Ave. and McDowell.

    These are the kind of immigrants we need in the USA. My problem is with those whose parents immigrated here one way or another and do not take the time to learn about the system and increasingly turn out new gangbangers who end up dead or clogging up our correctional systems.

    I say BRAVO to any student who goes to school to learn and advance themselves and the society of our nation. Teachers are not members of Homeland Security (yet) and are charged with teaching the kids in their classes, not checking on their immigration status.

    While I personally believe our national government is not doing their constitutional duty to protect and defend our nations borders, I would feel saddened if the success of these kids resulted in their deportation. THERE ARE SO MANY MORE THAT ARE MUCH MORE WORTHY OF DEPORTATION.

  15. You’re just, plain wrong Polski3.

    If they’re here illegally then they are precisely as deserving of deportation as the crack and the weed dealers.

  16. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I agree with allen and, of course. disagree with Polski3 and others who think simply because a child or adult is ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’ or ‘deserving’ means they can circumvent the federal immigration laws. National security is the first and foremost raison d’etre of our federal and state governments. I am a teacher who is PROUD to aid in the security of our homeland; that trumps all other considerations, including education. Students who are dead or poisoned by radiation or anthrax can’t learn. Our freedoms have not been free. Ask the families of victims of 9/11 or military veterans. ‘Nuff said.

  17. Nails: the problem with that “national security” argument about illegal aliens is that the agency that decides which ones are allowed to enter legally is utterly incompetent. Remember when they mailed out flight school student visas to two of the 9/11 terrorists – six months after 9/11?

  18. Katherine C says:

    National security? They were children! Seriously, it’s one thing to blame the parents who came here illegally. It’s another to blame the kids who essentially had no choice in the matter. Now, everytime an American parent commits a crime do we get to jail their kids too, even if they’re only six years old? These kids accomplished something amazing and should be applauded for it, even if other issues might need to be dealt with later. But they should not be considered criminals.

  19. No one’s “blaming” anyone.

    The kids are here illegally and the remedy for illegally crossing the border is getting thrown out. What else would it be? They haven’t committed a crime, they’re just not where they’re supposed to be. Illegals who also commit crimes are dealt with much differently then merely being deported. They are prosecuted and, if found guilty, serve their prison time before being deported.

    Immigration’s a privilige that ought to be accorded to those who meet the standards we set and wait their turn.

    I don’t have any problem, nor do I see any moral contradiction, in applauding the accomplishment of these kids and their teachers and seeing the law upheld as well.

  20. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    markm and KatherineC,

    What part of ‘Wait your turn in line’ is hard to understand? That’s essentially what the illegal immigration issue is about. Either we attempt to uphold the rule of law in this country or we don’t. Both political parties have dropped the ball on this issue, while they pander for votes. The result? Destruction of our public schools and the closing of hospital ER’s, just to name a few. And now terrorism via illegal immigration is here to stay. Al-Quaida and other groups are using the porous southern border to infiltrate our country. Public education is indeed secondary to national security.