MCALLEN, RGV – For FIRST Robotics, Vanguard Academy will incorporate STEM within its liberal arts foundation for more well-rounded education and student competitions.

Vanguard Academy is known for its liberal arts program. However, in recent years, the academy and FIRST RGV have partnered up to incorporate a robotics program to encourage students to join the STEM field. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Belinda Guzman, a robotics coach at Vanguard Academy, says 30 percent of the program is about robotics and 70 percent is about teamwork and promotion within the community.

“We’re going to [collaborate] with our theatre arts and [career and technical education] CTE teachers to develop those presentational skills they need for FIRST. We are not departing from liberal arts, but we are embracing the robotics and we’re expanding liberal arts to incorporate the new needs and demands in this industry,” Guzman said.

FIRST RGV is a non-profit organization that champions the four, progressional FIRST® Robotics programs for the Rio Grande Valley as part of its partnership with FIRST in Texas and US FIRST®.

Taylor Sweet, a recent graduate from Vanguard Academy, participated in robotics for three years. She said she learned a variety of technical skills such as programming as well as soft skills including teamwork and mentorship. 

Sweet believes the FIRST Robotics program is important for the region to prepare students in the STEM field for companies like SpaceX as well as careers in the areas of computer engineering and mechanical engineering. She will begin her undergraduate degree in computer science at UT-Rio Grande Valley this fall and hopes to be an influence for other girls to join STEM.

“I want to pursue [robotics] as a career because not many females are in this,” Sweet said. “So, hopefully me being in robotics will give representation to the females who aren’t able to be in it and help girls see that they can pursue a job like that is currently a male-dominated field.”

According to FIRST RGV’s website, they are the fastest growing STEM program in the Rio Grande Valley within the K-12 community. Guzman confirms this by saying the amount of students interest in the program is overwhelming.

“That interest has peaked as we’ve been introducing all these selections and we are now planning how are we going to create those applications because it’s tremendous,” Guzman said. “We don’t want to keep students from participating, so we’re thinking of different avenues and how we can provide those and see where we go. We’re going to go places.”

Guzman first started with robotics about four years ago when she saw the need to expand the extracurricular activities that students had access to. The program started with sticks such as the Rube Goldberg machines and then later Guzman joined FIRST robotics and now uses the EV3 robots and the Textrix based robots.

“Right now, we have three FTC [FIRST Tech Challenge] teams and we have two FLL [FIRST Lego League] teams with FIRST. It’s a new year for us and we got an inspiring award from FIRST. We moved onto the regional competition in Laredo and we’re one of the only teams from a charter school to represent the Valley at the UIL state competition in Austin,” Guzman said.

“For our FLL teams, we had one team that performed and got first place in Lego Performance as well as programming. Besides that, this year we’re becoming a FIRST district, which means all our four campuses will be promoting or supporting a team in FLL and FTC.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Taylor Sweet, a former student at Vanguard Academy.