On the corner of Sixth Street between Chinatown and Downtown Los Angeles is a mural depicting the history of Native American and Chicano culture that has come to characterize the neighborhood of Boyle Heights.
Behind the colorfully painted wall sits Roosevelt High School, where a group of students works intently into the night on a 5-foot-tall, 120-pound robot.
“I feel like I’m experiencing a real world job,” said Cynthia Erenas, a Roosevelt Sophomore and the project manager for the team.
This robot will be Roosevelt High School’s first-ever entry in the FIRST Robotics Competition, a nationwide program that challenges students to build and program machines.
Raytheon is sponsoring the team in partnership with the i.am.angel Foundation, an organization established by singer Will.i.am from the music group Black Eyed Peas. It’s one of dozens that Raytheon sponsors around the country – 15 of them in Los Angeles alone.
“Through i.am.angel at Roosevelt, we taught kids how to code and how to build robots — some of these kids went from not attending school to getting straight As,” said Will.i.am. “Engineers from Raytheon have volunteered hours of time to help these kids learn how build this year’s robot — and I couldn’t be prouder to see what they’ve accomplished.”
On March 20-23 the “L.A. Streetbots” team from Roosevelt competed in a regional tournament. This year’s competition was called “Aerial Assist” because the robots must launch a large ball into the air.
“By having robotics, by having these great opportunities that i.am.angel and our corporate partners can sponsor, we’re opening new doors for the students today to be leaders of tomorrow.” said i.am.angel chief of staff Enrique Legaspi.
Guiding the students is a group of volunteer engineers from Raytheon. Thirty of the company’s employees have dedicated more than 4,000 volunteer hours to the different robotics teams in Los Angeles.
The effort is part of Raytheon’s broader MathMovesU initiative, which aims to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“It was important for me to help the students understand that STEM is for everyone — for men, women, Black, White, Latino, Indian or Asian,” said Raymond Plummer, a Raytheon engineer who has been working with the Boyle Heights team since its inception. “This thing of science and engineering is not just something that people do on TV and the movies — it’s open to them too.”
The robot project allows students to rub shoulders with some of the nation’s top minds. Raytheon’s California employees work on projects ranging from infrared sensors to the VIIRS space camera.
“Robotics is a perfect example of changing the dynamic of a community,” Legaspi said. “Build a robot. Get involved. Be a participant. Take your ideas and network with experts in the industry.”
The program shows that students anywhere can be inspired to pursue futures in high-tech, he said.
“If we can do this in Boyle Heights, we can do this in Detroit or Texas. We can do it in East London. We can do it anywhere,” Legaspi said.