ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – A team of Muslim children in Albuquerque, New Mexico has won an award at a robotics competition, crowing efforts to engage the young children with the wider community.
“We’re here to inspire kids, and especially Muslim kids, that they can do whatever they wish,” team leader Safa Kassem, 14, told Albuquerque Journal on Monday, September 18.
Kassem added the experience has served not only as something to put down on her résumé but also as a way to encourage other children.
The team idea started when Mohamed Ebeida, a computer scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, wanted a way to teach programming to kids.
At the beginning of 2016, he gathered around 30 kids ages 6 to 14 from the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque and started teaching them the basics of computer programming and robotics.
“These kids, most of the ideas coming from them are out of the box,” Ebeida said.
“They don’t even have a box.”
Last July, two teams of six kids each were competing at the FIRST LEGO League Mountain State Invitational.
The competition required students to design, build and program a robot to accomplish a set of tasks and to feed different types of animals.
Competing against older and more experienced teams, Ebeida said he was thrilled when one of the teams won the Inspiration Core Value award for their teamwork.
Ebeida said he and the group already have begun preparing for next year’s competition.
“I think they learn there is really no limit to their capabilities,” he said.
The program also has served as an opportunity for the Muslim community to reach out, at a time of uncertainty for the religious minority in light of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, Ebeida said.
“When this happens, the Muslim community generally closes in on itself,” he said.
“Through this program, we’ve actually done the opposite.”