New Documentary: Robots, Tampons and Building Dreams

A new film tells the story of four undocumented high school students who bested MIT engineers in a robotics competition.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Four undocumented high school students won a prestigious NASA-sponsored robotics competition a decade ago by building a robot out of PVC pipes, duct tape and tampons. Now, their story is being told through the new documentary “Underwater Dreams.”

    Christian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vasquez – the team representing Carl T. Hayden Community High in Arizona – entered their robot, nicknamed Stinky, in the competition at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

    Few expected the Hayden team, faced with stiff competition from top engineering universities like MIT, to succeed, especially considering Stinky was pieced together with cheap parts bought at Home Depot.

    Sure enough, when they first put Stinky in the water, the robot sank. So the kids got creative: They added eight super-plus tampons to plug leaks in the robot’s mechanical victory.

    It worked.

    "You have four kids that come from nothing, and look what they did," documentary maker Mary Mazzio told the Associated Press in a recent interview. "There are millions of kids like them. All they need is a little bit of opportunity to flourish."

    The film is being released amid a surge of undocumented children are crossing the border, sparking the country’s already intense immigration debate.

    The documentary, which includes actual footage from the competition, incorporates interviews from the students themselves, their parents and members of the losing MIT robotics team. It also stresses the importance of closing the Latino student achievement gap, especially in STEM education.

    "Underwater Dreams" was released on Friday, July 11, at AMC Empire 25 in New York and AMC Burbank in Los Angeles.

    Beginning July 19, AMC will host 100 free screenings to community organizations across the country.

    MSNBC and Telemundo will simultaneously broadcast a special television version of “Underwater Dreams” (in both English and Spanish) on Sunday, July 20, at 1 p.m. ET. Mun2 will broadcast the following day.