‘We're chasing that trophy’: Boyle Heights students on competing in robotics

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal

Members of Los Stemateros stand with their coach, Israel Hernandez (far right). Photo courtesy of Los Stemateros.

A team of students from Boyle Heights STEM Magnet High School built their own hydrogen-powered remote control racing car. They made it through the preliminary rounds in California, and qualified to compete in Las Vegas over the weekend against teams from over 20 countries. They call themselves Los Stemateros

The Vegas competition was nerve-racking and served as the first season for Los Stemateros, says Israel Hernandez, the team’s coach. 

Team member and 11th grader Juan Aguilar-Lepe adds that they didn’t know what to make of the event upon arrival, but were happy to participate. 

“We placed 13 at the end. For our first year, we were able to keep up with some of the top teams, which when we talked with each other, we told ourselves next year, we will do better … and we're chasing that trophy,” Aguilar-Lepe says. 

He explains that they used lightweight carbon fiber to construct their car, which is powered by a fuel cell that gets energy from hydrogen. 

As for Hernandez, he says he’s always trying to find different programs that expose students to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, and in turn, they can decide what they want to be when they grow up. 

Educating students is also personal for him: “I am teaching at the neighborhood where I grew up … And what drives me every day: when I see Juan, I see my neighbors, I see my family, I see myself when I was a teenager.” 

Beyond this competition, Hernandez points out that Boyle Heights STEM Magnet High School students host robotics competitions for the elementary school set. “They're getting good exposure very early on. So that when they do get to the university or post-secondary education, they have that experience already. And they are already convinced that they can definitely be successful in this type of field.”