Education | Technology

Native Sun News: Lakota teams in robotics competition

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

The combined robotics team from Rapid City and Red Cloud are, left to right, Talon Mesteth, Dylan Tobacco, Bucky Salway, Leannah Vitalis, Miranda O'Donnell, and Derek Broken Rope. Not pictured is teammate Alexis Ghost Bear. PHOTO COURTESY/MISTY MOUSSEAUX-BEGAY

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA –– Native American students are often underestimated and underrepresented as far as science and technology pursuits go.

A group of dedicated, educated and motivated Lakota teachers, parents and mentors has taken on the challenge of changing that real-world disparity, however.

For the first time ever, two Native American teams participated in the FIRST Lego League and South Dakota Robotics Association competitions. The association is the local affiliate of U.S. FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.

Misty Mousseaux-Begay, Oglala Lakota, of Rapid City holds the education needed to lead the young Native students along the journey of science and engineering opportunities. Holding an associate of arts degree in science, engineering and mathematics, pre-engineering and a bachelor of science in secondary science and math education, Mousseaux-Begay has been a member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, or AISES, since 1996. AISES is the organization that sponsored this year’s teams at the competition.

Maria Moreno Vera, Black Hills AISES professional chapter member and Red Cloud Risky Bots team coach, said, “I really enjoyed my experience as a FIRST coach. Even though it was challenging, it was worth seeing how much the kids learned.”

“These types of opportunities allow students to step out of their comfort zone in many ways. They did not only learn how to build and program robots, but they also learned how to work as a team,” she said.

“There were many occasions where the kids disagreed, but the important thing is that they learned how to overcome their differences," she said. "Thanks to this experience, some of them became better friends and others learned how to handle their fears.”

Vera continued, “It is not easy to be in front of a panel of judges being interviewed by people the kids had never met before. Despite all of the challenges, the kids were able to have fun and learned that in order to be great at anything, dedication, passion and sacrifice are required. These are all skills that will help students succeed when they grow up.”

The first-year teams are made up of middle school students from both the Pine Ridge Reservation and Rapid City.

“I wish for more teams, more students and more schools to join next year,” said Vera. “We are constantly seeking additional board members and volunteer mentors to meet with students in our various outreach areas. For the 2012-2013 school year, BHAISES hopes to have four teams represented at the South Dakota state Robotics Association tournament.”

For further information about South Dakota Robotics Association, FIRST Lego League or BHAISES, teams and their sponsors can be reached via email at or by phone at (605) 393-4316. Facebook users can find them at

(Contact Karin Eagle at

Join the Conversation