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PHARR, RGV – If children are inspired enough, they develop the confidence to become our future science and technology leaders, according to organizers with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).

By engaging the youth in mentor-based programs, organizers with FIRST-RGV say they seek to build science, engineering and technology skills that will inspire innovation in kids from the Rio Grande Valley.

These are the skills that will foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and eventually leadership, according to Pharr Director of Innovation and Technology Jason Arms.

Pharr has emerged as the operational partner, coordinating the organization’s various programs and competitions Valley-wide.

“We think of FIRST as a career path. We start with kids in the younger generation for kids as young as kindergartners and go all the way up,” said Arms, who is Pharr’s point person for FIRST-RGV. “It promotes team building from kids at a young age, and by the time they’re done with the program they are experts at it. They qualify for all these grant programs, more than $20 million a year in grants.”

“What we want to do is, if there is a child who wants to build a robot or has the inspiration to get involved, we don’t want to leave anybody behind,” Arms said.

FIRST is the name of the non-profit organization devoted to helping young people between the ages of six and 18 discover and nurture a passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The organization was founded in 1989 by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen in order to motivate students into STEM careers. Participants master skills and concepts to aid in learning science and technology through innovative projects and robotics competitions designed for students of all ages.

“We are working with Pharr because the city is the hub, and they are the supporting group of all teams,” said Veronica Baca, an instructional technologist from Harlingen CISD, and FIRST senior mentor. “We are building workers who are ready for the workforce…and we offer support in its development.”

Competition season for FIRST is well underway. Pharr, in conjunction with UT-Rio Grande Valley and the City of Harlingen initially held its FIRST-RGV Robotics Workshop in September in Edinburg.

The event was held as an opportunity for students from across the Rio Grande Valley to explore their interests in robotics through a serious of fun and challenging projects.

Speaking to more than 500 local students at the event, Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez said he has witnessed first-hand how robots are paving the way for advancements in the various fields, including his own.

“As a pediatric surgeon, I have witnessed firsthand how the evolution of robotics has greatly enhanced our capabilities as surgeons,” Hernandez said. “With the enhanced techniques offered by robotic surgery, we are seeing enhanced and improved outcomes and minimal complications. Robotics is really changing the landscape of how our world operates, and the implications are remarkable.”

Medical technology is skyrocketing in the region, according to Arms. A major component of FIRST also ensures that kids are familiar with marketing and business strategies for their creations, he said.

Parents are encouraged to seek more information online at FIRSTRGV.org.

“Medical (technology) is taking off down here. We have Space X now, so there is that industry which of course uses robotics. The Maquilas use robotics big time,” Arms said.

“It’s not just about kids getting together and building a robot. It’s building a marketing program. They have to do an engineering book on how they built the robot. They have to go out and solicit sponsorships for their robot.”