A Bernalillo High School robotics team won $25,000 in prizes from Samsung, thanks to an idea rooted in Native American pueblo life.
Math and robotics teacher Jennylou Pangilinan-Riel helped the group develop an irrigation system that collects household sink wastewater and sends it outside to backyards and gardens, saving time on yardwork.
The product – dubbed the Aquatron Grey Water Filtration System – won first place at the state level in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest last month and is now in the running for more prizes.
Next week, the team will learn whether it advanced to the top 10, which includes a trip to New York City and a $50,000 technology package. The top three teams go on to a Washington, D.C., awards ceremony, where they will receive $150,000 in prizes, plus $20,000 to donate to a nonprofit organization.
The competition asks classes across the country to “Show how STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) can be applied to help your local community.”
Pangilinan-Riel, a Philippines native who is part of an international teacher exchange program, came up with the irrigation concept after noticing many of students were tired during class. They often told her that they were exhausted by household chores like gardening at nearby pueblo communities, such as Cochiti, San Felipe and Kewa, formerly Santo Domingo.
In her application to Samsung, Pangilinan-Riel notes that Bernalillo High School’s Native American students often help out with agricultural tasks.
“Most of them have to be in the fields or even in their backyards to carry out basic tasks such as irrigating the plots,” she said.
If that process is faster and easier, students will be better rested, more punctual and able to focus in the classroom, Pangilinan-Riel said.
During the fall, she helped the 16 students on the team develop a prototype, teaching them skills like making flowcharts and programming in the process. The project has a number of complex parts, including a filtration device that screens out waste from sink water and an irrigation system to dispense specific volumes.
It was hard work, Pangilinan-Riel said, but the students stuck with it.
Earlier this week, they put together a three-minute video demonstrating their filtration system using a model and submitted it to Samsung. Videos from the top 10 states will be available online for public voting.
“We want Bernalillo to be there,” Pangilinan-Riel said. “We want it really bad. … It is nerve-wracking, but we hope we advance.”
Several team members said they enjoyed the challenges and discovered a passion for technology that could become a career.
Kenny Archibeque, a 16-year-old junior, liked the design process because he had to figure out how to route the irrigation system through a home. “Every household is different, so you have think about the principles,” he said.
Shay Lopez, a 14-year-old freshman, said the project motivated him to consider engineering, though he hasn’t settled on a specific area.
Pangilinan-Riel added that she is particularly proud of the team because Bernalillo High is a predominantly minority school. Forty-nine percent of the enrollment is Hispanic, and 40 percent is Native American.
“We want our Hispanic and Native American students to represent,” Pangilinan-Riel said. “I want to give them hands-on learning and a chance to create something out of what they learn. Doing these contests shows their potential.”
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