Around the Pier: Scripps-led Robotics and Video Game Programming Courses Inspire Local Youth


On a warm summer’s day this June, a crowd of students and staff members gathered near the center of a classroom at the Elementary Institute of Science (EIS), a San Diego-based education center that provides children and teens with hands-on enrichment opportunities in science-related fields. The diverse students in this robotics class, ranging from eighth to twelfth grade, were about to compete against one another in an epic “battle of the bots” using custom-built robots. Their mission was to retrieve and deploy scientific instruments from a miniature “central science laboratory.”

“Everyone helps each other. We had to be creative to design and build our own robots,” said Alondra Crispin, 17, a student at Gompers Preparatory Academy. “It’s all about racing and competitions!”

Hoots, hollers, and cheers erupted during the multi-round competition as each student showcased the twists, turns, speed, and instrument transport ability of their robot, all while navigating a complicated obstacle course—one that represents the challenges in using marine robots to retrieve instruments from the seafloor.

This energetic student competition was part of an eight-week robotics course, designed and implemented through a three-way partnership among Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, UC San Diego Extension, and EIS. This partnership strives to bring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) curriculum to students in the Diamond District of Southeast San Diego, one of the city’s most underserved communities.

In addition to the robotics course, a new course in video game programming was also recently launched through this triple collaboration.

“The two new STEAM programs we are offering through this partnership are unique in that we are weaving together Scripps Oceanography’s cutting-edge science, UC San Diego Extension’s time-tested pedagogical methods, EIS’s knowledge gained over 50 years of educational summer and after-school programs, and students from an underserved region of San Diego,” said Debi Kilb, a seismologist and director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography Games.

Students enrolled in the robotics and video game programming courses have the chance to design and build their own projects using tools and resources provided by EIS, with classes running two hours per week for eight weeks. A grant from philanthropic organization Las Patronas to Scripps Oceanography provided every student in the robotics course with a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit.

“This program really stood out to us because it’s assisting at-risk youth in an area of San Diego that really needs this kind of support. It’s a great collaboration and really worthwhile to fund,” said Annette Bradbury, president of Las Patronas. “I was struck by the fact that the classes are being taught by Scripps scientists who are really experts in their field. I think that can inspire these youth to say, ‘Oh, that could be me one day.’”

With just 15 students per class, each student has the opportunity for one-on-one time with his or her instructor, an expert in the field. Courses aren’t graded, giving students and instructors the freedom to create, explore, and critically analyze without the constraints of a rigid curriculum.

Morse High School student Raynell Labayog, 16, signed up to take the robotics course after seeing online videos of college students creating robots, something that looked like “a lot of fun.”

“I’ve learned a lot so far,” said Labayog, who plans to attend college so he can become a computer engineer. “You’ve just got to keep on thinking, be more creative with how your design works, and if it doesn’t work, you’ve just got to keep on going.”

Fellow Morse High School student Kate Cobarruvia, 16, signed up for the video game programming course as an opportunity to try something new. Although she is interested in studying engineering in college, she wants to explore other fields as well.

“This class is helping me branch out and it’s giving me more ideas. I’m learning how to code and how to make a video game work with scripting,” said Cobarruvia, describing the experience as both challenging and fun. “My favorite part is actually going behind the scenes and knowing how the game works.”

Initially launched in May, the first round of robotics and video game programming courses wrapped up in July. Due to the success and popularity of both courses (each had a waiting list), Scripps, UCSD Extension, and EIS will work together once again to offer similar courses in the fall.

Kilb hopes these STEAM courses leave students with a passion for learning, the knowledge that curiosity is at the heart of science, and exposure to different career paths that these students might not have otherwise considered.

“As we build our new three-way partnership, we are specifically enrolling mentors of all levels who can help our students excel, believe in themselves, and follow their passion no matter what their gender or skin color,” said Kilb. “These students have a very high potential to excel in life and give back to the San Diego community if given the right opportunities."

– Brittany Hook


* View a photo gallery and Channel 4 San Diego video segment of the robotics and video game programming classes.

* To learn more about registering for fall courses at EIS, contact Josh Osias at

Related Image Gallery: Scripps-led Robotics and Video Game Programming Courses

Related Video: Channel 4 San Diego - Salute to Education

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