MISSION, RGV – Royal Technologies’ advanced manufacturing plant in Mission, Texas, is the venue for the FIRST Tech Challenge on Saturday.

The popular robotics competition is run by FIRST RGV, a non-profit that aims to inspire young people to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career. Hundreds of students and dozens of teams will battle it out to see who has made the best robot.

Among the VIPs slated to attend are various school superintendents, along with FIRST President Don E. Bossi, former NASA astronaut Michael E. Fossum, the Texas Workforce Commission’s labor representative Julian Alvarez, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, and Mario Lozoya, executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation.

Trung Cao Nguyen

Trung Cao Nguyen, manager of Royal Technologies’ Mission plant, is a big supporter of FIRST.

“Royal’s desire is to help connect students to industry. We believe that we have an obligation to help mold students at an early stage and not solely put the burden on teachers,” Nguyen told the Rio Grande Guardian. “The old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child is true. Royal wants to be part of that village to help educate and prepare the children of our community for the future.”

Nguyen said he believes students competing in the robotics competition will gain a lot from visiting an advanced manufacturing facility.

“Having a robotics tournament inside a manufacturing facility gives the students, teachers, and parents an understanding of why they are in FIRST. It helps to make that connection on how it can be applied in real life,” Nguyen said. “They are developing skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and teamwork that will be able to translate to their future professional careers.”

Jason Arms, president of FIRST RGV said he was thrilled that Saturday’s FIRST Tech Challenge competition is being held at Royal Technologies. 

“We are ecstatic that we are going to be in an advanced manufacturing plant. Students will be able to see that manufacturing is no longer a blue collar job,” Arms said.

Arms said Saturday’s meet will be special for another reason, not just because of the location.

“We are excited to announce that we will be visited by Don Bossi, the president of FIRST Global. It will be his first ever visit to the Rio Grande Valley,” Arms said.

“We would like to welcome everybody to come out and cheer on their favorite team in this 48 team dual division championship.”

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It was started in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen.

The mission of FIRST is to “inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.”

Kamen said the vision of FIRST is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Arms said Bossi accepted his invitation to come to the Valley when he, Arms, was at Kamen’s home earlier this month. 

Jason Arms

“Every year, groups of people are invited to New Hampshire, the location FIRST was founded in and to the home of our founder, Dean Kamen for the Founder’s Reception. I had the opportunity to tour his home. It is amazing. It is like a science museum. It is awesome,” Arms said.

“I also attended a First Robotics competition kickoff, which is done globally at the same time. I had an opportunity to talk to President Bose while I was there and he said he knew about the great things happening in the Rio Grande Valley. I invited him to the Valley and he took me up on it immediately.”

Arms said the robotics competition will start at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, and will run until 6 p.m. It is open to the general public. “On the 15th we will be there for robot inspection and judging of the engineering notebooks the students will be putting together. We will have judges from UTRGV, South Texas College, and various industry leaders.”

Asked what good things Bossi has heard about FIRST in the Valley, Arms said: 

“We have been blessed the last four years with outstanding growth in all four of our robotics programs. I am proud to say we have gotten some attention for that. We are a predominately a Title 1 community, which means we have a high [percentage of students form low-income families. 

“However, we are pleased to say we received over $147,000 in grant funds last year to directly help teams in the Rio Grande Valley, from organizations such as the Dell Corporation or the Texas Workforce Commission. This year we are well over $160,000 so far in funding given to local teams. Through the professional partnerships we have with industry and with TWC, we have blessed with some amazing growth.”

The address of Royal Technologies is 1200 Trinity Street, Mission, Texas.

Here is Don Bossi’s biography:

As President of FIRST, successful technology executive Donald E. Bossi brings deep technical and management skills to the organization. Bossi, who excelled in a 20-year career with several high-technology companies, is now anxious to give back and help develop the next generation of innovators.

Don. E. Bossi

Starting his career as a research scientist, first at MIT Lincoln Laboratory and then at United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), Bossi was part of an advanced project at UTRC that was acquired by JDS Uniphase (JDSU). Bossi’s role grew within JDSU, and he subsequently served as president of JDSU’s Active Components and Transmission Products groups. In 2005, he joined Technology Ventures Partners (TVP). In addition to being a General Partner with this venture firm, Bossi served as CEO of two portfolio companies, namely, Aegis Lightwave and Inlet Technologies, positioning the latter for a beneficial acquisition by Cisco.

Bossi is the holder of four U.S. patents and author of numerous technical presentations. He holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and has completed executive education courses at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He served on the Boards of Directors of several privately held companies, and is also a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.