Tesco Controls, Swerve Robotics team up to inspire students for STEM

Tesco Controls provides its office-space as the Build Zone for Swerve Robotics student teams to engage in the FIRST Lego League (FLL)

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An Update on the FIRST Community in Botswana

An Update on the FIRST Community in Botswana

Hi Friends, Donors, and Fellow Robotics Enthusiasts,

FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team 417 S.K.I.D hopes you are safe and healthy during these trying times. The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on our communities and brought about many FIRSTs 🙂 From social distancing to mask-wearing, our lives have been completely upended during this pandemic. The virus has also taken a heavy toll in Botswana, Africa a country our team visited in July 2019 to teach robotics and spread FIRST.

In partnership with the non-profit Dare to Dream, our team hosted a weeklong boot camp where we gave a group of 30+ teachers the FIRST LEGO League experience (https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fll). Teachers learned to build and program robots, fundraise, and design solutions to water related issues (project component of FLL) before returning to their communities to teach kids what they had learnt.

As a result of our efforts, 12 FLL teams were created and competed in an FLL competition in November 2019. The program was a huge success and we were set to return to Maun, in the northern part of Botswana, for another training program in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, the scale and deadliness of the Coronavirus shut down life in both America and Botswana. In Botswana, it pushed students with an already minimal access to technology out of school for 8 months and many of the FLL teams we created have had to cease activities.


Throughout the pandemic, 2 teams have found opportunities to connect and engage with STEM. In early October, BIUST (Botswana International University of Science and Technology) the only university in Botswana that specializes in science and technology hosted the 2020 National Science week and STEM festival hackathon. After 2 hours of training on October 6th, 25 teams (5 age categories) competed in a virtual hackathon. Mahupu Unified Secondary School’s junior and senior teams which were created as part of our 2019 summer training program were invited to the event after being noticed for their involvement in FLL and robotics. The Junior secondary team took 2nd place while the Senior secondary team came in 3rd in their respective categories!

Now, the teams have been invited to take part in the Science Circus, an event where students complete short experiments virtually. They are also participating in a Scratch (programming) training program organized by BIUST where teams will develop a screening application for COVID-19. FLL Coaches Onalenna Moilwa and TIroyaone Motsumi are really excited to see the kids apply their FLL knowledge to the real-world and develop new skills to solve pressing problems in their community.


In 2019, we worked with the nonprofit Dare to Dream to host our robotics bootcamp. The organization has continued their efforts to spread and expose African kids to STEM even during the raging pandemic. 

Learn more about the founder, Captain Kgomotso Phatsima here: Botswana Promo 

During the pandemic, network and internet issues made it difficult to host online events. As restrictions ease, Captain Kgomostso has been working tirelessly to host robotics, coding, aviation, space, leadership, and empowerment events for girls and boys during 2020.

In November she partnered with FNB (First National Bank of Botswana) to organize an event where young African children got the opportunity to fly on a plane for the first time in their lives! Kids were so shocked and surprised by the experience, that when the plane took off they screamed for it to stop!

The captain has also hosted girl summits to combat the increase in domestic violence cases and lack of girls returning to school. The summit is an opportunity for girls to meet STEM professionals like doctors and engineers and hear about their careers. As part of summit activities, students also got hands-on experience working with mentors to learn about design thinking, vision boards, and come up with solutions to pressing problems in their lives. The event has built many girls confidence in STEM, empowering them to apply their minds to problems and, most importantly, speak up for themselves.

The Pandemic has forced Dare to Dream to downsize their staff to 3 people. They have had to reallocate their little remaining funds to rent, staff payments, merchandise, media, and printing materials. The lack of funds and continuous hosting of events has strained the captain. Despite these challenges, Captain Kgomostso has continued her mission of getting African kids excited about STEM.

Please consider helping her out and donating to the nonprofit: here.

What’s next for Botswana?

As the Coronavirus subsides Captain Kgomotso is looking to the future. She plans to continue growing the FLL program in Botswana to 50 teams by hosting training programs in Maun with the help of BUIST. The captain is also looking to expand her nonprofit and create online courses about entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and self-esteem to empower kids virtually. On our part, Team 417 continues to fundraise for the Botswana FLL teams and Dare to Dream. The captain’s inspiring mission is one that we hope to share with more people.

What’s next for S.K.I.D?

Our robotics season this year has been full of surprises! Working virtually our team has had to prototype, test, build, and program a fully-functional competition robot. It has been a challenging but insightful experience into the importance of planning before building and learning to iterate on our designs based on the time we have to physically build our robot. As a team we are looking forward to participating in our first competition on March 31!

Thank you for your support of our efforts to bring robotics to underserved communities in Botswana and beyond. Please stay safe and healthy!

Best Regards,
S.K.I.D. (Space Koalas in Disguise), FTC Team 417

2020: Year In Review

While 2020 was a difficult year with having to determine how best to navigate the Swerve Robotics program through a pandemic and all the challenges that it presented, one thing stood out as an inspiration – YOU. The level of participation, dedication and support that has been demonstrated to this organization throughout the year by our kids, parents, donors and community has been, and continues to be, truly amazing!

Your support to the Swerve Robotics organization led to our ability to accomplish much in the past year, despite the challenges.

Operationally Speaking

We were able to implement several operational improvements throughout the year. First, we reacted quickly to put several COVID-19 processes in place throughout our programs to ensure the safety of our kids, mentors, coaches and community. Next, we also took measures to boost our FLL program by adding a new FLL coordinator to the board, as well as opening the Tesco Controls FLL Build Zone, which is a new donated space that has allowed us to have a central location for our youngest participants to meet outside of a team member’s home. Finally, we spent some time streamlining the registration process resulting in decreasing the number of hours needed to spend registering students.

Busy Board

The Board met regularly…and virtually…throughout the year to make improvements for your organization. Here are a few of the highlights we are proud to share. We added three new Board members, Sara Jones, Sameepa Saini and Stewart Wainaina…approved five new policies…held a financial meeting for parents providing a financial overview of Swerve Robotics…established greater transparency and control to operating funds by implementing restricted funds line item in financials…implemented volunteer background checks…removed the guarantor from the bank to become fully independent financially…and redesigned the Swerve Robotics website.

Your Donations

Due to the generosity of all of you who donated dollars and hours to the Swerve Robotics organization to help us build and maintain the robots and provide new opportunities for the students including public speaking, giving to the community, manufacturing and software development, we are truly thankful. Members and staff have volunteered more than 1,700 hours in 2020, and the organization has received $11,546 in total donations. Thank you to our many generous corporate sponsors including Boeing, Microsoft, Briotech, Tesco Controls NW, Rev Robotics and Aerojet Rocketdyne for donating funds which amounted to $14,380.

Partners: Fundraiser for Botswana

To make a difference in the world, you must dream big.

Our FFL partner is Botswana, Dare To Dream is a non-profit organization empowering youth, women and girls by introducing them to the many career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Entrepreneurship (STEAME), especially in the fields of Aviation and Aerospace. The organization positively impacts these lives through education, networking, mentorship and scholarships. Based at the Botswana Innovation Hub Science and Technology Park, Dare To Dream has provided educational programs to more than 20,000 girls, mostly in rural areas and disadvantaged communities.

Here is a link to the GoFundMe page

March 11th Financial Meeting

COVID-19 Updates

As our state has finally eased the restrictions, we are once again open for in-person meetings. Our teams are all required to fill out our Health form prior to entry, wear a mask, and maintain social distancing. Each team is given a separate 2 hour slot to have access to the respective meeting place one time per week. All other meetings are held online until our region is “safe” for people to meet in larger groups. No student, mentor, or coach is required to attend any in-person meeting. We always want to support the health of our families.

We are looking forward to those days when we can return to life as usual, in the meantime.we will enjoy our limited time together building robots!

From the Director

It is hard to believe that we are already near the end of December. It seems like I just welcomed so many of you to our family, and now it is the competition season. Time seems to be flying – and I have been following suit. In this calendar year, I have had the privilege of flying to Botswana twice as we started the FLL program there, Dubai for the FIRST Global Competition, and finally a long awaited family reunion trip to Australia (I got back just a week prior to this writing). Jet lag aside, this has been a most incredible year for me both personally and professionally. It has been both freeing and very difficult for me to step aside from coaching to focus on more of the work of the Executive Director.

2019 has been a time of change and growth for all of us. We saw our largest group of Seniors yet leave the nest to fly off to colleges across theUSA. It was a difficult parting, but we also welcomed many new families to our flock. It has been such a joy to watch as the newer members of our group have jumped in to help us out with coaching, volunteering, mentoring and other support – like a brand new newsletter! (Thank you, Laura.)

The Board has grown in size, and is working hard on improving our policies, processes, transparency, and structure. By the time
you read this newsletter, our FLL Jr teams, and many of our FLL teams as well, will have completed their seasons. With just one returning coach in each program, there has been a tremendous learning opportunity for coaches and students alike. We are so proud of the caliber of coaching this season and the effort put in by so many working parents and busy kids to participate in this program. The FTC teams are just ramping up their competition seasons as they are preparing for their first judged event this season – the Feynman Interleague in Tacoma. Although the holidays are upon us, our students are seeing only robot meeting opportunities, so please feel free to tell your FTC student “no” – your family time is top priority in this hectic world.

As you enter the break from school, work, and other scheduled routine activities, I hope you will reflect on a great year of learning, discovery and joy. I know that I have seen incredible growth in our students – confidence in their skills, opinions, and even their voice. The students who worked so hard to take FLL to Botswana should also be proud that the 12 teams that started there also completed the season and are planning for next year as well!

We look forward to further growth together and would value your feedback, volunteer time, or other help as we seek to improve further the Swerve Robotics experience for all. Thank you for your ongoing support.

I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate at this time of year. I hope all have a wonderful time with family and take the time to rest and enjoy the season.

Heidi Lovett

African Tech Roundup interview

Heidi Lovett, founder and Executive Director was recently interviewed about Swerve Robotics and our work to bring FLL to Botswana. If you would like to hear the interview, please listen on your favorite Podcast site or at the African Tech Roundup website. It was an honor to speak with Andile Masuku about the work we do here at Swerve Robotics to empower the youth of our community and world.

Super day at the State Championships!

On Sunday, March 17th Washington finally held their FIRST LEGO League (FLL) and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) State Championships. Swerve had 5 teams at the event – 2 FLL and 3 FTC all competing at the same time! In addition, we have two closely affiliated teams that students from FTC 417 SKID have been mentoring that were also competing. The results of the day were incredible!

The FLL teams were very successful – Squeaky Wheels our most veteran FLL team won a project award and our very own Night Gnomes won the Innovation award for their project and have been invited to compete in the Global Innovation award competition! This is no small deal and we are very excited for these little Gnomes.

The FTC teams also had a good day, all three of our FTC teams were selected to participate in the Elimination rounds on separate alliances. In addition, our friends from Woodinville High School – the 11970 Titanium Talons – were also selected to play on an alliance in the elimination matches. Every one of the 4 alliances had a team from Woodinville on it! Our home town was well represented. In the end, only one alliance was able to win the game and it turned out to be our very own 8923 – Perpetual Velocity that took the game. 6220 Centripetal was on the finalist alliance and the other two teams, 11970 and 417 SKID were eliminated.

When it came time for the awards, we knew that 417 was not eligible for the Inspire Award as they had recently won it in British Columbia and had already secured a spot a the World Championships. So, we hoped that our other two teams would be nominated for awards. In the end, 6220 won the Collins Innovate Award and 417 won the Motivate Award.

Now we have two of our 4 FTC teams that have advanced to the World Championships and we are preparing for travel to Houston TX in mid-April. In addition, 417 is raising money (would you like to help them??) to pay for their travel to Botswana where they will be providing a group of up to 40 teachers a “boot camp” experience to introduce them to FIRST LEGO League as we start the program in Botswana. Please join us in congratulating our teams on a very great day!