MCALLEN, RGV – The labor representative for the Texas Workforce Commission says he would not have missed the kickoff to the 2018-19 FIRST RGV Robotics Competition season for the world.
Rio Grande Valley native Julian Alvarez was one of a number of dignitaries to attend the celebration at Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen. Hundreds of students from across the Valley were present to learn what this season’s FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Tech Challenge games involve.
“FIRST Robotics is one of the events that Texas Workforce Commission sponsors. We do this because we are committed to focusing on young adults with STEM-related interests,” Alvarez told the Rio Grande Guardian and KGBT-TV Action 4 News.
“What we like is to get students from all over the state to start thinking about STEM-related occupations.”
Alvarez said TWC knows that by the 8th grade, students start identifying a career path.
“What we want them to do is start looking at occupations such as becoming scientists, or being chemists, or being doctors. So, before they start looking at what endorsement they would like to follow, we would like them to think of a STEM career.”
Alvarez said he goes to FIRST events around the state but none give him as much joy as seeing the participation of students, parents and instructors in the Rio Grande Valley. He noted that Valley schools are putting the Football Friday Night mentality to one side to provide a unified approach to STEM education.
“I like to see the Valley schools working together. Everybody here is one team,” Alvarez said, pointing to the packed auditorium. “You can see, today, how the parents are engaged. You can see the excitement on the faces of the students. We have a lot of instructors who have volunteered their time to do this. My hat’s off to Jason and his team for the great work they are doing. I would not have missed this for the world.”
World Class Experience
Jason Arms, president of FIRST RGV was emcee for the kickoff celebrations. He asked Alvarez, Dr. J.A. Gonzalez, superintendent of McAllen ISD, and Mario Lozoya, executive director of Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, to speak at the event. There was also a video message from former astronaut Michael Fossum and a video of Space X. Yolanda Woods, a Valley native who serves as area director of FIRST for the San Antonio area, came down to the Valley to witness the buzz about FIRST along the South Texas border.
Asked why FIRST RGV is important, Superintendent Gonzalez told the Rio Grande Guardian: “We know that robotics teaches students life skills. It teaches them the importance of collaboration. It teaches them the importance of having synergy with a group. It focuses on continuous improvement because the students are always trying to fine tune their robots from a coding perspective.
“And, it is about systems and processes. When they are working on theses systems and processes with robotics that transfers over to life. At the end of the day it teaches them how to be leaders and how to be followers. So, it is this perfect storm of problem solving and critical thinking that will prepare a child and propel them into the future in a first class way.”
FIRST is growing faster in the Valley than in any other Texas region. In three years, it has grown from a handful of students learning to make robots to more than 5,000 students competing in various age groups.
Asked about the meteoric rise of FIRST in the Valley, Gonzalez said: “This is the biggest region in the state. As far as McAllen is concerned, three years ago we had one team with a handful of kids participating, here at Nikki Rowe. Now, we have around a thousand kids participating. It is phenomenal. It is why I am in this business. It is why educators are in this business. To have a positive influence on students and to give them experiences. This is a world class experience as we move through the 21st Century.”
High Tech Jobs
GBIC’s Lozoya was a big fan of FIRST when he was an executive at Toyota Motor Corporation in San Antonio. In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Lozoya said he is taking the same approach to FIRST in the Valley as he did in San Antonio.
“In my prior role at Toyota, one of our struggles was a relevant educated workforce for the longterm sustainment of a company like Toyota and advanced manufacturing. So, one our many activities was to increase the number of FIRST robotics teams at all levels of the continuum.
“In about a three-and-a-half or four year window, we increased the amount of robotics students on the south side of San Antonio by 900 percent. When you start looking at that number, that goes into the middle schools, and then the high schools and then the works force. You can start to understand how you can mitigate the workforce issues at that rate.”
Asked if there are any studies that show students more likely to start a career in STEM if they learn robotics at elementary, middle or high school, Lozoya said:
“What I would like to do in the Valley is, starting in Brownsville, increase our participation in FIRST Robotics, at all ages. So that our kids can have the opportunity of being employed in the workforce of tomorrow. We have to create the right awareness with the families – that industry and high tech technology is moving at a particular pace and sometimes we as a community may not be at that pace. How can we make them understand that this is where the future is? That this where the jobs are and if you want a good job, to think about STEM.”
Lozoya added: “I am looking forward to FIRST growing in Texas and particularly along the border region. We must collaborate regionally.”