Six high school students from Alameda-based charter school Nea Community Learning Center brought home the top prize at Pioneers in Engineering (PiE) competition.

The Nea robot, "BRIX JR," built by the students with the help of volunteer advisers, went undefeated in a series of skill-based challenges designed by the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley.

The competition was held April 27-28 at the Lawrence Hall of Science.

The team from Nea and their alliance team from Oakland Tech placed in the top category, besting over 20 other high schools. They defeated the team from Encinal High School and their alliance team from Ralph Bunche in the final round of a double elimination completion.

Members of Nea's team included Brian Elder, John Love, Ian Linke, Robert Tran, Xavier Sanders and Ronnie Witt, III, from ninth- through 11-grades. The students from Nea built "BRIX JR" with the help of mentors from UC Berkeley, and their teacher, Barry Harris from a $100 kit available to all entrants.

"We are proud of the Nea students," said Barry Harris, science teacher at Nea Community Learning Center. "Their tenacity, persistence, and problem solving, and they were able to see it through. This was a very exciting competition, and we came together as a team, enjoyed some success, and hope that it teaches them skills they can use for science careers in the future."


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The seven-week PiE program takes teams from bare parts to finished project and head-to-head competition. Each team is grouped with two or three college mentors.

"We're building a strong scientific curriculum at Nea, and these students demonstrated a number of our core principles at the school," said Maafi Gueye, lead facilitator at Nea. "They did a great job, and these kids and their families have a lot to be proud of."

-- Brendan Doherty