MISSION, Texas – FIRST Robotics, a high school robotics competition that gives students real-world engineering experience, has won praise from Julian Alvarez.

The labor representative on the Texas Workforce Commission recently gave a speech to hundreds of people at the Mission Event Center. The Buenas Tardes luncheon was hosted by the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce.

During his remarks, Alvarez asked the audience if they were aware that Mission has 68 robotics teams in the FIRST program. “Sixty eight teams made up of students from your school districts,” he said.

Julian Alvarez

Alvarez is a Rio Grande Valley native. He said his heart swells with pride when he attends national and state competitions and sees a student wearing a Mission shirt, or, for that matter, a McAllen or PSJA shirt.

“How proud do you think I am as a representative of South Texas to stand here and brag about the great things that we do?” Alvarez said.

Alvarez won applause from the audience when he said TWC awarded FIRST Robotics one million dollars. “Thank you Jason for being such a champion,” Alvarez said, referencing Jason Arms, executive director of FIRST RGV.

FIRST stands for “For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. The international non-profit youth organization was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989.

Arms started FIRST RGV as a nonprofit in 2015. It comprises, at the latest count, 480 teams in four grade programs for K-12 students. The four grades are:

  • FIRST Lego League, Jr., which caters for students in Pre-K thru 4th grades
  • FIRST Lego League, which caters for students in 4th thru 7th grades
  • FIRST Tech Challenge, which caters for students in 7th thru 12 grades
  • FIRST Robotics Competition, which caters for students in the 9th thru 12 grades.

The 480 teams comprise more than 5,000 students from Laredo to Brownsville. They celebrate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) by building robots, creating a business and marketing plan, and doing community events.

“This year’s theme was created in collaboration with the makers of Star Wars to encourage students to be a force for change in the community,” Arms told the Rio Grande Guardian. “The idea is to brainstorm on ways to build a sustainable city of the future.”

Jason Arms

Arms said FIRST RGV will be hosting the 2019-2020 FIRST Tech Challenge Championship at Royal Technologies in Mission on Feb. 21-22. It will feature the best 48 teams in the region.

“We are opening this year’s event to industry and college recruiters interested in our students,” Arms said.

The regional event for elementary grade levels will be held at Gutierrez Middle School in Harlingen on March 7 and will be streamed live by Harlingen CISD.

“Teams from these events will advance to the FIRST World Championship in Houston, Texas, in April,” Arms said.

Those wishing to volunteer for or sponsor a FIRST RGV event can learn more at www.firstrgv.org.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Texas Workforce Commission Commissioner Julian Alvarez with a robotics team from Porter High School in Brownsville.