Ten years ago, four teenage boys from Phoenix, Arizona built an underwater robot for a major science competition. They faced some of the best tech universities in the country – and they won.
It was the start of a remarkable underdog story that is even more impressive as all four were undocumented students from Mexico and their high school was riddled with gangs and poverty.
Their story comes to life in the new documentary “Underwater Dreams,” by American filmmaker Mary Mazzio, who set off to show that children of Latino immigrants – with all the odds against them – can accomplish unthinkable enterprises.
“Education is the great equalizer,” she told Fox News Latino.
Narrated in English by “Cesar Chavez” actor Michael Peña, the documentary shows how, almost in a whim, two science teachers decided to enter the high school in the 2004 robot competition organized by NASA.
“To think about building an underwater robot pretty close to the desert was hilarious to begin with, and they were two energetic teachers involved,” Mazzio said. “These kids built this underwater robot out of chewing gum and duct tape and bits and pieces from Home Depot.”
The team decided to go in the collegiate category so they lost, they would do so to several prestigious universities instead of other high schools.
With their blue, red and white robot aptly named “Stinky” – because “it looked like crap,” Mazzio said – and made of pipes and using tampons to stop a leak, the four teenagers went on to beat the likes of MIT, who had far superior robots.
In the documentary, Mazzio reunites with the four high school students and their mentors along with members from the MIT robot team to get their insights on the competition and what it meant.
The four Arizona teens never went to college, impeded by their legal status in the country.
“(Them winning) was a phenomenal underdog story, but what these boys did for their community is kind of the bigger story,” Mazzio said. “In a community that had extraordinary poverty – there were kids that simply did not think about college and had immense pressure to work … these boys really infused a sense that something more can be possible.”
She said there has been a stream of engineering students coming out of this small robotics program over the last 10 years.
With the documentary, Mazzio said, she hopes to humanize these communities of students who are heavily influenced by old stereotypes that impede them to succeed. She said she wants to show that just because they don’t look the part, it does not mean they are not just as capable as anyone else.
“(We want to) get and capture the excitement in the minds of kids around science and technology in education because we need those students,” she said. “They are just as capable as anybody else.”
“Underwater Dreams” is currently screening at AMC theaters in communities across the country.