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Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute team wins NASA prize

A team from Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute walked away with the grand prize at a NASA competition last week.

The four students and their professor beat out 18 other teams during the physical competition at the 2017 NASA Swarmathon. They won a $5,000 prize for developing computer programs that were used to instruct robotic vehicles on the best way to find objects without human supervision or maps.

"Well done to the brilliant students at SIPI. These young people are breaking new ground and making everyone proud,” Secretary Ryan Zinke, the new leader of the Department of the Interior, said in a press release.

SIPI has participated in the Swarmathon since its inception last year. In 2016, the team placed third so this year's win represented a huge achievement.

The grand prize winners at the 2017 Swarmathon. From left: Schulte Cooke, Emery Sutherland, Christian Martinez, Ty Shurley and faculty adviser Nader Vadiee. Photo: Nader Vadiee

“My experience with the Swarmathon team has been a great learning opportunity that I am proud to be a part of,” team member Christian (Chrissy) Martinez, who is from Laguna Pueblo, said in a press release prior to the competition.

Martinez is studying network management at SIPI, a Bureau of Indian Education institution in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The rest of the team consisted of Schulte Cooke, a citizen of the Navajo Nation who is studying geospatial information technology; Emery Sutherland, a Navajo citizen in computer aided drafting and design; and Ty Shurley, a Navajo student who is studying engineering and computer aided drafting and design;. They were supervised by professor Nader Vadiee.

According to the official scores from the Swarmathon, the SIPI team came in first or close to first in every stage of the competition. They beat the second place finisher by 8 points and were far ahead of other teams during the semi-finals.

“We at the BIE are enormously proud of the SIPI team for successfully tackling these challenges and showing the excellent education SIPI has to offer the students of Indian Country,” Tony Dearman, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who serves as the director of the agency, said in the press release.

The competition took place April 18-20 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.