HARLINGEN, RGV – It only seems appropriate that during National Robotics Week, the Rio Grande Valley has three teams preparing to compete in a robotics world championship final.

They will join 29,000-plus students from 66 countries at the FIRST World Championships in Houston next week.

Jason Arms

K. White Junior High School in Mission will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship.

Travis Elementary School in Harlingen will compete in the FIRST Lego League World Championship.

And Cavazos Elementary School of Alton, will compete in the FIRST Lego League Junior World Championship.

The FIRST World Championship takes place in Houston next week, April 18-21.

“I am very proud. As a volunteer for FIRST Robotics, this means a lot to us,” said Jason Arms, president of FIRST RGV.

“We have got about 3,800 kids in the Valley’s FIRST program and this is the first time in the three years we have been operating that we have had three teams competing at the World stage.”

Asked if he ever thought the Valley would produce such great robotics teams when FIRST RGV started out, just three short years ago, Arms said:

“It is humbling. But, you know what. the reason I do this as a volunteer is because I know we have amazing kids in the Valley. I am not from the education world, I am from the IT world. I have seen these kids build robots and I have seen the lightbulb come on.”

Arms said corporations in the Valley should get behind FIRST.

“This really is a program we have to endorse in the Valley. These kids are getting opportunities on the world stage. I will put these kids against any other community. We have got some real talent down here and it is time for our kids to shine.”

Dr. Art Cavazos

Harlingen CISD Superintendent Art Cavazos is on the board of directors for FIRST in Texas.

“We are super proud of the Travis Robotics Team for being the first FLL team from the RGV to make it to the world championship,” said Cavazos. 

“In 2016, Harlingen CISD took robotics full scale by implementing the program at every campus K-12. Today, we see the new heights our students can attain when we work together to maximize choices and opportunities available to them. We are thankful for programs like FIRST that challenge students with real-world scenarios that will inspire them to pursue STEM educational pathways.”

In addition to having three teams in the FIRST World Championships, FIRST RGV has six teams in a University Interscholastic League (UIL) State Robotics Competition. It takes place in Austin on May 19.

The six teams are: Vanguard Academy in Pharr, Thelma Salinas High School in La Joya, Sharyland High School, Patriot Engineering of Veterans Memorial High School in Mission, Nikki Rowe High School in McAllen, and McAllen High School.

While the competition is administered by UIL, the robots are exclusively assembled from FIRST kits.

UTRGV Robotics

UTRGV students Samuel Roberts, Joshua Acosta, & Salvador Galarza and Dr. Mounir Ben Ghalia, UTRGV Electrical Engineering Professor, 3rd from left; with the robot they built for the IEEE Region 5 Robotics Competition on Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2018 at the Engineering building in Edinburg, Texas.
UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy

Meanwhile, a UT-Rio Grande Valley team has also won a robotics competition.

The UTRGV Robotics team ranked first among all Texas university teams, during the annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Region Five Robotics Competition, held April 7 in Austin.

Of 31 teams competing, UT-RGV placed fourth overall, going up against high-profile universities like Louisiana State University, UT Austin, UT Tyler and the University of Houston.

UTRGV Robotics Team members are:

·         Joshua Acosta, of Edinburg, computer engineering major.

·         Samuel Roberts, of Brownsville, electrical engineering major.

·         Salvador Garza, of Edinburg, electrical engineering major.

All team members are seniors slated for graduation in May.

“We created the robot for our senior design project, so that was mandatory,” Roberts said. “But entering into the competition is was what we chose to do as a team.”

Their statewide and regional success marks the first recognition for a UTRGV Robotics team.

Latinas in STEM

In other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) news from UT-RGV, the National Science Foundation has awarded a $249,992 grant to the university for its Symposium for ADVANCING STEM Latinas in Academic Careers.

Dr. Marie T. Mora

Spearheading the project are Dr. Ala Qubbaj, vice provost of Faculty Affairs and Diversity, and Dr. Marie Mora, professor of Economics and associate vice provost for Faculty Diversity.

“We are very excited that the NSF has funded this project, which will provide a national platform to discuss and address issues that affect the pathways/pipelines, recruitment, retention, and advancement of Latinas in STEM academic careers,” Mora said.

“This will broaden their participation and inclusion in higher education.”

The “NSF INCLUDES Symposium for ADVANCING STEM Latinas in Academic Careers” program starts Aug. 1, 2018, and ends July 31, 2020.

Mora said the funding will be used to host a two-part NSF INCLUDES symposium in spring 2019 and spring 2020.

Mora said the symposium will bring together a variety of NSF-funded broadening participation projects from across the country, such as NSF INCLUDES Pilots and ADVANCE projects, Hispanic-Serving Institutions and national professional organizations that have a focus on enhancing the inclusion, participation and success of Latinas and other traditionally underrepresented minority groups in STEM careers.

“We also believe it will have a larger impact on our university and the region as a whole than if the project was hosted elsewhere,” Mora said.

“Given our student demographics – the majority of whom are women and disproportionately Hispanic – having more Latinas on our STEM faculty, including in leadership positions, will provide more role models to our students and inspire future leaders in STEM from the Rio Grande Valley.”