CASA advocates for high school robotics program 

Hallea Pocrass, 17, left, Nyali Latz-Torres, 17, center, and Cayden Pocrass, 19, participated in the frst in-person 2023 California Advocacy Leadership Conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 5. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Hallea Pocrass, 17, left, Nyali Latz-Torres, 17, center, and Cayden Pocrass, 19, participated in the frst in-person 2023 California Advocacy Leadership Conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 5. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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Through their robotics club, Hermit Social Club, 17-year-old Academy of the Canyons seniors Hallea Pocrass and Nyali Latz-Torres helped organize the first-ever in-person conference for the California Association for STEM Advocacy. 

Along with Hallea’s brother, Cayden Pocrass, a Valencia High School alumnus, UCLA student and Hermit Social Club mentor, the three students strive to advocate for robotics, through robotics. 

CASA is an initiative to encourage and ensure high school students’ participation in robotics. It’s an advocacy group that strives to “provide funding to schools and directly to teams [to] remove cost barriers, [while] supporting new and under-resourced teams,” according to CASA’s website. 

Throughout the state, robotics clubs gathered to attend the first in-person advocacy workshop, the 2023 Annual California Advocacy Leadership Conference, at the State Capitol on Nov. 5 and 6, where students could speak to their state representatives and request funding for robotics and other STEM-based extracurriculars.  

Inviting Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, to speak at the student-led conference was a part of a day-long agenda of teaching students the proper techniques and methods for access to activities in science, technology, engineering and math. 

“I am one of the two directors of the California Association for STEM Advocacy,” Cayden said. “We’re a group of high school robotics teams from across the state who are really here to do two main things: advocate to our elected officials and get them interested and in supporting STEM education through legislation, and help introduce kids at the middle and high school levels that it is not so scary to talk to your elected officials and to make a difference.” 

The goal of the conference is to have senators work on a bill that would provide grants from the state to robotics teams and STEM programs. 

“We think that robotics gives people hands-on experience with STEM concepts,” Cayden said. “People can see STEM concepts really come to life, almost quite literally, since when you have a robot, you are making moves with the power of the concepts that you’re learning. It really gets them interested in these subjects and it translates into a lifelong passion.” 

Cayden Pocrass, 19, left, Hallea Pocrass, 17, center, and Nyali Latz-Torres, 17, right, participated in the frst in-person 2023 California Advocacy Leadership Conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 5. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Cayden Pocrass, 19, left, Hallea Pocrass, 17, center, and Nyali Latz-Torres, 17, right, participated in the frst in-person 2023 California Advocacy Leadership Conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 5. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

The local chapter of CASA is comprised of eight students, many of whom are a part of AOC, and have had past students from Valencia and West Ranch, before becoming mentors once turning 18.  

“We’re really advocating for schools to be able to have these robotics teams, because we got lucky with having supportive adults and everybody who was able to help us start this team,” Hallea said. “But a lot of students don’t have the same resources.” 

CASA was formed in July 2022 to begin planning the first-ever Zoom conference in January, but has since expanded to host 20 teams in person. 

“We got about 20 teams attending, so we wanted to expand it further because we thought of having live speakers who teams could see in person. It would also be a very good experience for networking,” Latz-Torres said. 

The planning stages for the first in-person conference began in July, and it took place nearly four months later. Latz-Torres’ dedication as head of logistics meant contacting potential speakers in the beginning of September. Schiavo, who was the closing speaker, agreed.  

“Having her as our closing speaker meant to really inspire students to show them that, one, the people that represent you, they care about you enough to show up to student-led conferences,” Latz-Torres said. “Two, Assembly people are approachable, and if you get in contact with them, you can make a difference. And three, give some of her personal experience in advocacy spaces to tell students, ‘Hey, this is what I did.’” 

As the journey to advocate continues and grows, Schiavo’s comments about being persistent in advocacy work have inspired the students to keep vouching for robotics and its accessibility. 

“She had said some inspiring things about not giving up when one advocates because she discussed how there can be roadblocks in advocacy. She talked about having the persistence of a mosquito,” Hallea said. 

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