EDINBURG, Texas – The leader of FIRST RGV has taken on a key leadership role with the FIRST in Texas Foundation.

Jason Arms, pictured above, was one of the original founders of the nonprofit FIRST RGV in 2015 to make FIRST’s popular robotics competitions more accessible for students in the Rio Grande Valley through local representation.

Now he has been named interim executive director for the FIRST in Texas Foundation, which is the statewide organization for FIRST. He takes over from Patrick Felty, who resigned as executive director last month.

FIRST stands for: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It is a global initiative founded by Dean Kamen, the well-known inventor,” Arms said. “The mission of FIRST is to engage students in a very engaging, inspirational and inclusive set of programs for PK-thru-12 students.”

Jason Arms

In an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Arms explained why he started FIRST RGV and talked about some of the priorities during his time as the interim executive director of FIRST in Texas.

“Back in 2015 I coordinated the creation of the nonprofit here in the Rio Grande Valley to support FIRST programs. We called it FIRST RGV. Since 2015 we have had a 300-plus percent increase in student participation here in the Valley. I am very proud of the success we have had here but we have a long way to go.”

Arms said he is particularly pleased with the way FIRST RGV has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the country started shutting down we quickly adapted through effective partnerships with schools, colleges and private businesses. We were able to develop virtual opportunities. We have been doing remote robotics camps for students with special needs, and for students in kindergarten thru 4th Grade,” Arms explained.

“We have also been doing virtual robotics competitions for a number of our programs, which is required because of COVID.”

Ironically, the pandemic has led to a greater involvement by students in rural areas.

“It has provided a unique opportunity to have more kids involved. Before, it was easier to participate if you lived in a metro area. It was not so easy if you lived in rural areas. We now we have systems in place whereby we can include students in very rural communities. They have the opportunity to participate and compete virtually.”

Asked why FIRST is important for a student’s educational development, Arms said:

“We always say FIRST Robotics is a Sport for the Mind® and that we are More Than Robots®. These are more than just tag lines because if we engage a student in pre-kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, while they may not want to be a robotics engineer, it opens the door to critical thinking. We give students a safe and inclusive pathway for emotional learning and problem-solving. Designing and building robots can also help develop communication skills and business planning skills. So it is a well-rounded program that really allows people to expand on their specific area of interest in FIRST.”

Communications skills are developed through keeping a journal, Arms noted.

“With all of our programs, each team is expected to journal their journey. In the journal they log their their sessions with colleagues, meetings with teachers, how their designs were successful, how their designs were not so successful. Each team is expected to have a business plan, a fundraising plan, a marketing plan. All that is documented by the student. That starts at a very young age, with our FIRST Lego League Challenge program.”

Asked if the success of FIRST RGV helped propel him to the interim executive director position with the FIRST in Texas Foundation, Arms said:

“We have had a very successful four and a half years now in the Valley, with a great growth rate. Our brand is well recognized down here. We have close to 5,000 students in a normal year participating in our programs. I would like to think some of our successes down here in the Valley have been noticed by our state-level partners and I am proud to be able to bring those to the table and execute those in other areas of Texas.”

Asked what his top priority is while interim executive director of the statewide group, Arms said: “The most important thing we want to focus on is consistency in program delivery and work with partners to deliver an industry recognized credential the students can use upon graduation. We want a student participating in Lubbock, to get same experience and benefit that a student in Houston or the Rio Grande Valley, is getting. Those are a couple of my top priorities right now. I want to make sure we are doing consistent and impactful program delivery across Texas.”

Arms said FIRST would not be as successful as it is without the support of generous sponsors. Among these, he said, is the Texas Workforce Commission. 

“We are very proud and honored to have the support of the Texas Workforce Commission. Their financial support is very impactful all across Texas to make sure we provide students access to our programs. This helps us to ensure access for all for those students that are interested in participating. The grant we’ve been awarded for several years from TWC is specifically geared towards students with disabilities and students from under-served communities. While some of our metro areas are very well funded, some of our rural teams are not. We are very blessed to have the continued support of Commissioner Julian Alvarez from TWC. We appreciate his support.”

Arms said any person or organization interested in becoming a sponsor or a volunteer is encouraged to go to the FIRST in Texas website for more information.

FIRST in Texas and all of our FIRST partners across Texas, such as FIRST RGV  are all working together to ensure we have a safe, inclusive and equitable program and anybody that has any questions, comments or concerns are welcome to reach out to me directly,” Arms added. 

Arms’ email is [email protected].

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