By Neal Singer

Photography By Randy Montoya

Friday, August 04, 2017

Islamic Center kids, Sandia coach, win big in STEM competition

Sandian Mohamed Ebeida and a team of kids he coached from Albuquerque's Islamic Center of New Mexico. The team won the Inspiration Core Value award at a recent international First Lego League tournament in West Virginia. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Sandian Mohamed Ebeida and a team of kids he coached from Albuquerque's Islamic Center of New Mexico. The team won the Inspiration Core Value award at a recent international First Lego League tournament in West Virginia. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Motivated by the national importance of involving kids in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) applications, Mohamed Ebeida (1441) initiated a robotics program last year at the Islamic Center of New Mexico (ICNM) for boys and girls six to 14 years old.

Earlier this July, two teams of six children from the program were among forty international teams chosen to compete in a NASA-organized First Lego League (FLL) tournament in West Virginia. One of the two teams won the Inspiration Core Value award, a major prize involving working together in a helpful spirit.

“This kind of success is great insulation for the kids from all the issues they face in public school,” Mohamed says. “By the time they reach the age when other teenagers are causing trouble, these kids will be getting internships from Silicon Valley. These kids now feel they are special.”

This year, the FLL theme — "Animal Allies" — involved programming Lego robots built by the contestants to collect and distribute food to animals according to their type. Each team got 2.5 minutes to finish as many missions as they could. “Our team was unique in its strategy,” Mohamed said. “The children took advantage of a no-ceiling rule and built a five-foot-tall Legos structure that rotated and achieved multiple tasks at the same time.” The team also competed in robot design and research projects. “We trained them for this competition for more than a year and a half, and received a lot of support from different communities, both financially and from volunteers.”

Sandia helps sponsor the New Mexico FLL competition. The team’s performance there led to their invitation to the international tournament in West Virginia.

 “Our program is open to everyone,” says Mohamed. “Multiple Sandians have reached out to me and want their kids to join. The goal is diversity and getting kids excited about STEM.”