BY Brenda Garza | THE RIDER
The UTRGV Fieldhouse was decorated in wall-to-wall blue fabric, its lights were dimmed and round tables were filled with attendees, giving it a classic ambience, as KGBT-TV Channel 4 anchor Marcy Martinez presented Faridodin “Fredi” Lajvardi.
Lajvardi, a mechanical engineering teacher at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz., was the special keynote speaker for HESTEC’s Educator Day.
He spoke highly of his students. The inner-city school with high crime and low test scores made him aware that as a young teacher, he had so much ground to cover.
“I kept hearing my students say, ‘I’m the first one in my family graduating high school,’ and that made me think,” Lajvardi said.
He wanted to get the school and the students positive recognition, so they built their first electric race car and got sponsors to help raise funds for the parts.
His students started asking him which classes to take in high school and in college to help them learn more about what they were doing.
“They wanted to take classes they would normally run from, like physics, geometry and other classes that they would normally hate,” Lajvardi said. “They wanted to take them and learn.”
They entered their first competition in underwater robotics against universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lajvardi said they were meant to fail, so they could learn what it took to win.
“The students had little going for them,” Lajvardi said during a his presentation.
He mentioned how the students began to have confidence in themselves and their underwater robot named Stinky, much in part because of the smell of the PVC pipe glues.
Lajvardi said if you don’t take risks, you’ll never know if it will pay off.
Barriers were broken and the mechanical engineering club would go on to win multiple awards. They received the Elegance and Design award, Best Technical Award and they went home with first place.
It wasn’t until eight months later, when a reporter saw the press release Lajvardi had sent out about the winning team, that the news broke.
“A high school had beat MIT,” Lajvardi said.
The movie “Spare Parts,” based on Lajvardi and his team’s success, was released on Jan. 16, 2015. Actor George Lopez plays Lajvardi in the movie, which grossed $3.6 million and inspired a documentary.
“Underwater Dreams” documents the journey the students and Lajvardi took to become the first high school to enter a university robotics competition and win. And in February of 2017, “Dream Big,” the first STEM educational film, will be released in IMAX theaters, which will feature these students and their teacher.