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FIRST Global Robotic Challenge: Team Samoa Mentored by USP Wins Gold

Team Samoa returned home, after participating in FIRST Global Robotic Challenge held in Dubai, with the gold medal for the 'Rajaa Cherkaoui El Moursli Award for Courageous Achievement' for exhibiting a 'can do' attitude throughout the challenge. The prestigious competition, named after the American non-profit organisation, which sponsors it - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Global Challenge uses robotics (cooperation and competition) to promote STEM globally to address issues and problems facing the earth including climate change and marine pollution.

The 2019 Global FIRST Challenge theme was ocean opportunities and the cleaning of the oceans, simulated by the robots clearing pollutants represented by orange balls on the game floor (ocean). The Form 5 students from Robert Louis Stevenson School that went to Dubai included Aukusitino Potoi, Alexandria Matalavea, Victoria Amosa, Julius Netzler and team captain, Marion Fruean and were accompanied by their Deputy Principal and Senior Science teacher Ms Margaret Masa Faasau and mentor Lemamea Sia Matalavea, the IT Manager at the USP Samoa Campus. The three non-travelling members of Team Samoa also contributed immensely to the success of the team. They were Jamesa Potoi who is also a Form 5 student, General Manager of Sleepwell Company, Mr Teleiai James Potoi, who was one of the mentors who assisted the team with training on the design and building of the robot and Mr Fonoti Ferron Fruean, who built the replica of the game venue, which allowed simulation practice for the Team.

Overall, Team Samoa ranked 26th out of 189 countries with seven wins, two losses and no draws. The 2019 Global FIRST Challenge was the first time Samoa has participated in the international Olympiad-style event, which started three years ago to encourage children to pursue Science and Engineering careers. Overall results placed Team Samoa at the top 13.8 percent of all the countries that participated. Eleven countries from the Pacific region competed in the three-day event. Samoa stood just behind Australia, which ranked 24th; the Cook Islands at 30th; Papua New Guinea at 76th; Fiji at 88th; the Marshall Islands at 95th and the Solomon Islands follows closely behind at 96th. Team Tonga came in at 117th; Vanuatu at 153rd; Kiribati at 171st and New Zealand at 177th.

The USP played a major role in the registration, preparations and sending of Team Samoa. Former Acting Dean of the Faculty of Science Technology and Environment, Dr Bibhya Sharma was the main contact for the USP member countries and regional teams when the regional teams were first organised to participate at the FIRST Global Challenge (FGC) in Dubai. USP Samoa Campus IT Manager was the main contact for Team Samoa and the FGC organisers for online registrations, passports, visas, team photos, videos and logistics preparations. The Samoa Campus IT Manager also provided the training in robotic programming as well as in building the various components of the robot, which were designed, built and programmed by the students at the Samoa Campusí Lodge Common Room, the Teamís robotic lab where they worked on Wednesday afternoons and on Saturdays from September to October before departing for Dubai. The Team was also visited by the Vice Chancelor and President of USP, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and the Vice President, Dr Giulio Paunga when they were in Alafua in September.

The event has excited and motivated everybody in the country that is aware of the tournament and the Team's success. The team arrived back home from Dubai on Tuesday, 29th of October and were welcomed at the airport by the very happy and excited parents, families and friends. The principal of the Robert Louis Stevenson School, Ms Fiaapia Devoe and parents had supported the team by spearheading the fundraising activities and preparing refreshment for the team while spending long hours at the robotic lab. Government also provided much welcomed financial support. The host country Dubai has also contributed generously by financing airfares for all members of the participating teams from 189 countries. All the teams were accommodated in three hotels close to the game venue.

On November 4th, Team Samoa was given audiences with the Honorable Minister of Education, Sports and Culture Loau Solamalemalo Keneti Sio and after that the Honorable Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Aiono Dr Sailele Malielegaoi who were both happy with the extraordinary accomplishment of the group. The Team and all of their family members, friends and supporters have indeed make us all very proud of what they have done through their courage, dedication and hard work.


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