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USC MESA Team Nabs Top Ten Slot in Worldwide Robotics Competition

Students from Manual Arts High School place eighth in the Zero Robotics Autonomous Capture Challenge

June 08, 2012 —

Robo-skunks, a Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) student team from Manual Arts High School, grabbed 8th place in the worldwide Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge on May 1.

The Robo-skunks MESA team from Manual Arts High School.
Made up of 12th graders Adedamola Tombrown and Korayma Arrevalo, 11th grader Eduardo Avila, and 10th grader Ali Ibsin, Robo-skunks was the only team from California to rank among the top ten in the international competition, which included more than 100 teams from countries including Russia, South Korea and India.

Sponsored by NASA, MIT and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the programming tournament required teams to develop an algorithm for a robotic pod that would autonomously identify and capture a satellite in space. Robo-skunks devoted five weeks to the project, with the help of mentors from Lockheed Martin, Northup Grumman and Raytheon. The team was also treated to a tour of Boeing’s satellite development facility for inspiration.

“Our students accomplished something some might say is impossible,” said John Santos, the team's MESA advisor. “An inner-city school competed with some of the top aerospace engineering and computer science programs from throughout the world and finished in the top ten.”

All four team members are MESA students at Manual Arts High School, served by the MESA center housed at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The USC MESA program serves educationally disadvantaged students, providing a pipeline of academic services from elementary through university level in more than 21,000 institutions in California.

The primary goal of MESA is to increase the number of students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The number of MESA high school students that enroll in college is higher than the overall percentage of California students: 74 percent and 41 percent respectively. Sixty percent of MESA high school graduates choose math, engineering or science majors in college,  a testament to how the program works.