Odiase is one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2004, a team of high school students from Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona, defeated college teams, including MIT, in an underwater robotic competition.
“This is the attention we kind of expected at the time, but it’s 10 years after the fact.”
All four students had entered the country illegally; three out of the four were undocumented immigrants. Their victory went largely unheralded until a 2005 Wired magazine article, which now has been made into the movie “Spare Parts.”
We spoke with all four of the students, plus their team coach Fredi Lajvardi, back in 2005. Today we catch up with Lajvardi, who is still teaching at the high school, and with Cristian Arcega, who was called the genius of the four students. He’s now 26 and working at Home Depot.
On what happened after they won in 2004:
Cristian Arcega: “When we got back we didn’t really receive any kind of attention for almost a year. NPR was really one of the first places where we actually got our story out. … It’s definitely partly that [the community] didn’t really comprehend the extent of our victory and what it meant. And it’s also, in our community, positive stories don’t really get highlighted — it’s usually the negative aspects of our community that reach the most attention.”
Fredi Lajvardi: “Right when it first happened, we thought wow, this is going to be a life-changing thing and we don’t know exactly what it’s going to turn into. And then shortly afterwards, everything was the same and nothing changed. And over the years as the story kept coming back through one media form or another, and now finally the movie, this is the attention we kind of expected at the time, but it’s 10 years after the fact.
Cristian Arcega on his dream to be the first in his family to go to college:
“After I graduated from high school, I actually had the presidential scholarship, which covered all of my in-state tuition. That was revoked through Prop 300 in 2006 I believe. … I’ve been struggling to go back to school ever since. At the moment, through all this publicity, I’ve been doing a crowdfunding campaign at collegedream.help and hopefully I can go back to school in the fall.”
Fredi Lajvardi on his thriving robotics program:
“What those four boys did was open up the doors for all the kids that followed behind, and it made it impossible for any other student to have any other excuses, because these kids had so much against them. So any kid that comes in and says ‘we can’t do that,’ I just point to the kids that did it before and say, ‘really?'”