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Local 4-H teen attends national pre-college robotics symposium for Hispanic engineers

When Uni High School Junior, Joaquín Gutiérrez Malik, started tinkering around with the FLL Robotics Club in fourth grade, he had no idea it would propel him to the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Pre-college symposium, held in Ann Arbor November 5-9, 2014. He just knew that robotics was something he really wanted to do.

“I find it really fun to go through the process. You start with a challenging problem, you design a solution to that problem and then you realize your design [by building]. To see that work out in the end is worth it,” he said. “It’s also fun when you encounter problems — you get to think of new ways to solve them.”

For Joaquín, that early passion for robotics paid off. He was the only student from Champaign County to attend the symposium where he was paired with other individuals from as far away as New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Using a combination of Spanish, English, and C++ (a programming language), the team communicated across language barriers to solve basic engineering challenges, program simple games, and play around with the new Intel Galileo microprocessor.

“[I got to see] other people that are doing this sort of stuff in other parts of the world,” he said of the symposium. “It’s a really great experience because you feel like you are part of something bigger than what you are doing in your community.”

Back at home, Joaquín is a member of the FRC 4096 4-H Robotics Club — also known as “Ctrl-Z,” the Windows computer shortcut for “undo.” Each year, the team works together to create a robot that can perform a series of tasks under a set of restrictions. They do everything from figuring out solutions to designing the parts and complete robot to building and then competing against teams from throughout the state.

Competing with the team takes commitment – during the six-week build period, which will start at the beginning of January 2015, team members meet for three hours each weekday and for ten total hours each weekend. But to Joaquín and his peers, it’s worth it.

“[Working on a team] You get to see how people’s designs and ideas mesh and how they come out in the final project. It’s why I like robotics so much – you work as a team through the whole process.”

In addition to their yearly competition, the team also performs outreach in the community. “We help the community become more interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math subjects) and engineering. People who wouldn’t normally see or experience [robotics] get to see what it’s like, what is possible, what is out there,” he said.

Joaquín came home from the SHPE symposium with an ambitious goal, one that will help take this outreach mission even farther — to start a Junior SHPE club here in Champaign County.

“With a Junior SHPE club, Latinos and other underrepresented people who aren’t normally exposed to this will see that it’s a possibility for high school students – this is a doorway to get involved in engineering,” Joaquín said.
Individuals interested in further information about the Junior SHPE chapter can contact Joaquín at

The FRC 4096 4-H Robotics Club is part of 4-H serving Champaign County in Illinois. Illinois 4-H strives to help youth learn skills for living. University of Illinois Extension provides 4-H programs in every county in Illinois. Champaign County 4-H has over 400 members county-wide. Learn more about Engineering and 4-H in Champaign County by calling Melissa Bender, 217-333-7672 or by visiting our website.

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