Fatima agrees with Fuzz and believes the internships Raytheon Technologies offers FIRST students are a critical pathway into STEM careers.
“FIRST is helping us to find and cultivate the next Einstein,” Fatima said. “My kids are literally geniuses, and if they did not have FIRST, they would not have an outlet to show that or to grow their talent. The kids learn computer-aided design, how to code and all these other talents they wouldn’t have in a traditional public school.”
Fatima serves as co-lead mentor for the TeraWatts with other co-lead mentor Joana Perdomo, who makes cameo appearances in the “More Than Robots” documentary.
Perdomo, has worked for RI&S for the past two years as a systems engineer working on F-15 and low-band programs in El Segundo. She strives to get into the mindset of her students and understand their day-to-day struggles.
“We’ve had students who have been homeless or in the foster care system or food insecure,” Perdomo said. “So, for a lot of our students, it’s difficult to come into a place and just think, ‘Here’s this engineering problem, let me solve it’ when they are hungry, don’t know where they will sleep or fear deportation. Every mentor must be conscious of the students they are working with.”
While Fuzz’s team, The Vitruvian Bots, is 70 strong and has its own machine shop, Perdomo’s team, the TeraWatts, consists of about a dozen students, and they don’t have a permanent workspace. They’ve bounced around to different buildings, worked in hallways and even in the Zubairs’ backyard. This season as in past seasons, The Vitruvian Bots have welcomed the TeraWatts into their workspace. It’s part of what FIRST calls “coopertition” – a concept and a philosophy that teams can and should help and cooperate with each other even as they compete.
“My students grow up in an environment where it’s difficult for them to see themselves going to college,” Perdomo said. “Being an engineer is something they maybe never thought about. So, the team is an opportunity for them to feel empowered that, ‘Hey, here’s this very difficult problem. I can solve it, and I can solve it on my own.’”
RI&S Intern Joy Uehara, who competed on Fuzz’s team from 2016 to 2019, also appears in the Disney+ documentary. Uehara is now studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California and will soon begin her master’s in System Architecting and Engineering at USC. She’s done two internships at RI&S and starts a third in summer 2022. Paying it forward, she spends 30 to 50 hours a week on mentoring FIRST robotics teams in her community, including The Vitruvian Bots.