We had the privilege of speaking with Mary Mazzio – an award-winning filmmaker and creator of Underwater Dreams, a documentary film chronicling the inspirational story of four teenage boys, each the son of Mexican immigrants, who enter a sophisticated robotics competition and defeat the likes of engineering powerhouse MIT.
In addition to exploring STEM topics, this film sheds light on the lives of immigrant families and the struggles they face living in America.
What made Underwater Dreams such a special story to tell?
Four high school boys from Phoenix, AZ building an underwater robot from PVC parts and chewing gum – and then defeating MIT – was an incredible David and Goliath story, particularly given their lack of resources and money. What I did not anticipate was the degree to which their win catalyzed and inspired their community. Since that win in 2004, Carl Hayden High School, where about 90% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, has sent more engineers to Arizona State University than athletes.
What role did teachers at Carl Hayden High School play in helping their students achieve their goals?
Underwater Dreams shows firsthand the mentorship and leadership that teachers invest in their students. The involvement of teachers Fredi Lajvardi and Allan Cameron was at the heart of the success of the Carl Hayden team. They encouraged their students, documented and undocumented, to think, to reach out to experts across the country, and most of all, to believe that they could figure out a way to solve a problem themselves.
How has the film positively influenced young people, specifically Latino youth?
By witnessing the story of these students, other Latino youth view their own destinies differently, with more hope. They see that anything is possible, regardless of the impediments of poverty or status of documentation.
One middle school student in California told us that because of her culture, she didn’t think she could be anyone until she saw the movie. Now she believes she can do something important. Similarly, a group of undocumented immigrant students at MIT galvanized together and publicly revealed their identities for the first time after seeing the film.
When it is all said and done, what would you like to see happen in this country as a result of Underwater Dream’ssuccess?
If Underwater Dreams can change one young person’s conception of what might be possible, it was all worth it. There are so many bright, capable students in zip codes that we as a country overlook. One of those students could start the next Google.