MCALLEN, RGV – Andres Alcantar, chairman of Texas Workforce Commission, says having students participate in competitive robotics competitions helps them learn the skills they will need for the jobs of the future.

On a recent visit to the Rio Grande Valley, Alcantar called a meeting at South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen to promote the support of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs such as FIRST in the region.

TWC gives $1 million a year to FIRST at the statewide level. Some of this funding reaches the Valley but Alcantar wants to see more local support for FIRST RGV. He attended the recent FIRST World Championships in Houston and was pleased to see the Valley represented in all four robotics competitions.

“I think it is important for us to inspire our students. I think it is important to get them to understand the relevance of what our students are learning in the classroom with the world of work,” Alcantar told the Rio Grande Guardian, at the conclusion of a TWC forum at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

“There are a number of effective ways but one of the clearly proven and effective strategies is our students’ participation in these competitive robotics competitions around the state. They have the opportunity to go out there to learn programmming, electrical, mechanical, team-building concepts, and they get to be celebrated and they get to learn the relevance of what they learn in the classroom as it applies to the workplace while being mentored by different representatives of our companies all across our wonderful state. These competitions need to be encouraged and supported. I think it will make a huge difference in terms of the work readiness of our future workforce.”

FIRST RGV President Jason Arms says his group has grown so fast in such a short amount of time that he is having to limit the number of teams entering this Fall’s robotics competitions.

“In our first year we had 11 robotics teams, in our second we had 47 and last year we had 328. This year we are having to limit the number to 469 teams, which equates to just shy of 5,000 students,” Arms said. “Unfortunately, we must limit the total number of teams competing in the 2018-2019 season due to growth beyond financial assistance.”

For the FIRST Lego League Junior, the cap will be 150 teams. For the FIRST Lego League the cap will be 144 teams. For the FIRST Tech Challenge the cap will be 160 teams. And for the FIRST Robotics Competition, the cap will be 15 teams.

Arms thanked Alcantar and TWC for its continued support of FIRST.

“The mission of FIRST robotics to inspire students in K-12 could not be done in Texas and specifically the RGV without the dedication and support of the Texas Workforce Commission and its commissioners. Chairman Alcantar is a great champion of our work and we appreciate it.”

Trung Nguyen, plant manager of Royal Technologies in Mission, Texas, was recently awarded “Mentor of the Year” by FIRST RGV.