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Students show off talent and skill at HESTEC Robotics Day
By Office of University Relations
(956) 665-2741
Posted: 09/30/2010
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Los Fresnos High School's "Brave Little Toaster" lived up to its name Thursday, Sept. 30, coming back after one defeat to knock out John Paul II High School's "Hot Pocket" twice and capturing the top prize at the HESTEC Robotics Day Sumo Competition at The University of Texas-Pan American.


UTPA Image
Students from Los Fresnos High School won the HESTEC Robotics Day Sumo Competition with their programmable robot, "Brave Little Toaster" on Sept. 30. Pictured from left to right are Charlie Vasquez, Jeremy Voles, Andres Arreola, David Atkinson and Jeremiah Bonney. Each team member won an iPad.

"We've been waiting forever for this day," said Andres "Andy" Arreola, a 17-year-old senior at Los Fresnos High School and the team's captain.

Sixty teams representing high schools from all over the Rio Grande Valley, and from as far as the Austin area, were tasked with designing robots using LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT programmable robot models that can move without the use of a remote control and knock opposing machines off the ring.

The event, now in its ninth year, was sponsored by Raytheon and Time Warner. Judging the competition were representatives from those companies, as well as IBM and the U.S. Navy.

Before the competition, students were greeted by Dr. David Allen, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He told the students that the word engineer came from a Latin word meaning ingenious and briefly described the evolution of engineering from its origins 13,000 years ago and its impact on technological advances. He advised the students that in the high tech world of today, they must pursue an education to survive. Allen gave them three reasons to go to college: to acquire knowledge, to learn to love to learn; and most importantly, he said, to be happy.

"If you want to be happy for a lifetime, love your job, love your profession. A university is a place where you can go to learn what you want to be in life. There are so many options available to you in life. If you want to be happy you need to find what you want to do and the best place to find what you want to do is a university," he said.


UTPA Image
Marc Garza, deputy director of INI/External Advanced Products Center Space and Airborne Systems for Raytheon, delivered the keynote address during HESTEC 2010 Robotics Day at UTPA Sept. 30.

Marc Garza, deputy director with Space and Airborne Systems Advanced Products Center in Dallas, Texas, also talked to students about making the proper choices now regarding their futures and the many opportunities currently for graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Garza is a 15-year employee with Raytheon and has bachelor's and master's degree in mechanical engineering from Texas-A&M University-College Station and another master's in engineering and technology management from Oklahoma State University. He showed a short video regarding Raytheon, a defense, homeland security and aerospace systems supplier with 75,000 employees worldwide. He also described two educational programs — Math Counts and MathMovesU — targeted to K-12 students to promote interest in STEM.

He urged students to make the connection between where they wanted to be in the future and what it would take to get there, a realization he didn't come to until the eighth or ninth grade, he said.

"Up to that point I wasn't involved in too many things, kind of a couch potato," Garza said. "Your attitude in life is important and the choices you make relevant to the opportunities that come your way are important."

He cited a number of statistics indicating that the United States is falling behind in producing graduates with STEM proficiency and degrees which impacts the country's competitiveness, economic growth and defense capabilities. There is a growing gap in the workforce, he said, which is a critical problem.

"This provides a tremendous opportunity for you guys. Choose to recognize this and take advantage of it. You need to spend time thinking about your future," Garza said.


UTPA Image
Andres Arreola, pictured left, a senior at Los Fresnos High School, and Ryan Clause, pictured right, a senior at John Paul II High School in Corpus Christi, prepare to compete for first place at the HESTEC’s Robotics Day Sumo Competition.

Arreola and his teammates at Los Fresnos High School said they were thrilled to win this year, especially because the prize was five iPads — one for each team member — and they were knocked out in the quarterfinals the previous year. But they were intimidated by John Paul II High School from Corpus Christi. That team received the second place prize of five iPod touches.

"They were the only ones who beat us the first time," said team member Jeremy Voles, a 17-year-old senior.

The Los Fresnos team members said they spent much of the past month testing and designing several models before developing their final robot. It took them about two days to construct the machine, a task the team members said was the fun part because they got to work with LEGOS.

"It made me feel like a kid again," said David Atkinson, a 17-year-old senior from Los Fresnos.

Learning from their experience last year, the team designed its robot with double tires and back wheel power, members said.

Throughout the day students would rush to the main stage of the UTPA Fieldhouse to cheer on their teammates as they competed against other schools while others would test their robots in designated areas, hooking up the tiny machines to laptops to check if the programming was correct.

Alexander Garcia, a 17-year-old senior from Pace High School in Brownsville, said his team created several models before building "Miss Daisy," which won third place in the competition.

"She has massive strength ... she picks up practically anything," said Garcia.

Garcia said he enjoyed the engineering aspect of designing the robot, which was named after the movie "Driving Miss Daisy."

The Pace High School team won five iPod nanos.

HESTEC continues Friday, Oct. 1 with the Career Expo, featuring more than 60 companies and government agencies that will be recruiting students and other attendees for employment. The Career Expo will be at the UTPA Fieldhouse from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

For more information about HESTEC, visit http://hestec.utpa.edu.