Mariana’s Story
Tell us about yourself and your background:

I was brought over to the United States from Mexico when I was one years old. I was raised by my single mother as an only child and was mainly taken care of by my grandparents. Given that I spent most of my time with my grandparents, I learned a lot by being around them.

My grandmother has been a caregiver ever since I was three years old. The lady that gave my grandmother the job, Betty, was diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis at a very young age. She is the first person who I ever met who went to college (UCLA and Cal State LA) and who gave me the idea of college and encouraged me to pursue a degree. I recall being interested in prosthesis and asking one day when I was working for her if she’d ever consider getting a prosthesis. She responded no because of the various complications a person with her condition can have post-surgery.

As I was heading into my junior year of high school I was set with the idea of majoring in Bioengineering because it encompassed all of my interests at school and paved a path where I could help others like Betty. Engineering isn’t new in the family, my grandfather has been an auto body repair technician his whole life and loves to weld for a living. The familiarity with welding and engineering that I had due to my grandfather’s exposure at home gave me the curiosity and courage to take an introductory course to gas and tig welding during college and to major in engineering, despite it being a male-dominated field. Returning back to campus from COVID, I was recommended by a friend to join the MATE ROV Competition to put my technical skills to practice.

What is your major and what made you decide on it?

My major is Mechatronics, which consists of the development of electronics, mechanical, electrical engineering principles, and software skills. What made me decide on that specific major was the creative aspect of designing and bringing something to life in both art and engineering. Having a passion for designing and creating as a small girl made engineering appealing. I find a lot of similarities between engineering and sculpture (art). They are both what made engineering the right choice to follow, apart from enjoying math and being curious about science.

Tell us about your college/university and the program you are in:

I’m currently enrolled at Pasadena City College located in California with one year left to transfer. I was lucky to be involved in the first year that PCC got invited to compete at the MATE ROV Competition in 2022. The MATE ROV Competition aims to inspire and steer students towards a better sustainable future through robotics. Students from regional and international schools are given approximately nine months to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The work is divided into three subcategories where students with an interested in computer science, mechanical, and electrical engineering can apply their technical skills and create an ROV with multiple features that can aid in bettering ocean systems.

Features like attaching and building robotic arms to clean the bottom of the oceans, using surveillance cameras, assembling a control board, integrating AI and machine learning applications to automate the ROV completely or create software that can detect fish and objects of interest underwater. Soft skills are also applied where students have to join together and write a technical document on the ROV regarding safety protocols, hardware and software description, and functionality, ultimately, preparing students for a professional career in engineering.

In June, the international MATE ROV Competition is held at a designated pool in the United States. The team that accumulates the highest points across all subdivisions earns the first place title for the competition. Subdivisions include building of the ROV and points accumulated from the pool activities, the technical documentation, and a poster with a formal presentation behind the creation of the ROV.

What do you enjoy most about the MATE ROV Competition?

The collaboration that is has brought amongst my team. When we got to the competition, being our first year, we didn’t know what to expect. Yet, everyone was super welcoming and generous in assisting with the final safety inspections on our ROV before the competition. Other teams even lent their tools to us and everybody was super knowledgable regarding their ROV. They also shared their curiosity about our design and gave out advice. I also found it cool how we got to interact with students from all over the world and across the United States!

What has surprised you most about the program?

My initial response to the MATE ROV Competition was that even though it was a competition, the competitive aspect of it wasn’t really pronounced. It was more of a learning experience throughout the entire competition, which made it even more fun and enjoyable. One thing that surprised me was the countless officials that helped out at the event. All of them were mainly affiliated with the offshore maritime industry in some shape or form.

What are your career goals?

I would like to keep my career opportunities broad, which is another reason I decided to major in Mechatronics. Before competing in the MATE ROV Competition, I never really considered working for the offshore maritime industry. Now, it’s an industry that I would definitely like to be a part of. However, I still have prosthesis in mind and hope to help the caregiver service industry. Having been exposed to the awful working conditions, it’s become important to me and crucial that we improve this industry for the comfort of our loved ones. I believe this can be done through autonomous technology as well as with adequate funding. As for now, I will continue to pursue a bachelor’s in Mechatronics and hopefully get a master’s before settling on a definite career path.

Any tips you would like to share with current or future students looking into this program?

Definitely take the opportunity to join and compete at the MATE ROV Competition. If I had the opportunity to do it starting out in middle school, I would have joined. The MATE ROV Competition is not limited to only college and high-school students, but middle schoolers can participate as well. It’s an enriching and perfect experience for those who are looking into an engineering career field. If you are a teacher reading this, I definitely encourage sponsoring this organization at your school, as it’s instrumental for future students to use STEM to make a positive change for the environment now more than ever.

What excites you most about the future of autonomous technologies?

What I’m anticipating in the future from the growth of autonomous technologies is to see much more improvements in our environment as a result, and have more discoveries being made on Earth and throughout space. I’m also excited to see how it’ll shape our society in the future.

What would you say to people who are skeptical about autonomous technology?

Many people fear the day autonomous technologies will overrule human labor. Although we should oversee our fears with the incredible capabilities that autonomous technologies carry over our limited abilities. Like venturing out in uncharted territory, whether that be in outer space or under deep oceans. The possibilities may be endless with autonomous technology. This new wave of technology will enable us to submerge ourselves into and learn more about technology. I only see a positive outcome with newer and more technological jobs displayed on the market for the public, with higher salaries. Although we should be aware of the environmental impact and limited resources at hand to create this new sector and create practical solutions as a result of the rise of technology, which will limit resources and create waste production.

If you are interested in learning more about the MATE ROV Competition or how to get a team at your school, visit

About the MATE ROV Competition

MATE II, in partnership with the MATE Center, uses underwater robots – also known as remotely operated vehicles or ROVs – to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and prepare students for technical careers.

The MATE international ROV (remotely operated vehicle or underwater robot) competition challenges students to learn and creatively apply STEM skills to solve real-world problems and strengthen their critical thinking, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

Each spring, more than 6,000 students in grades 4-16 participate in one of 42 (and growing!) regional events that take place across the country and around the world and feed into the international championship in June.  Under the guidance of teachers and mentors, students spend anywhere from 500 to 2,500 hours engineering their ROVs. 

Students are being challenged to engineer solutions to global problems as they tackle design and build a remotely operated vehicle and the necessary sensors and tooling to tackle the real-world problems of plastics in our ocean, climate change’s impact on coral reefs, and the consequences of poor environmental practices on our inland waterways.

November 9, 2022
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