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Army partnership supports science, technology, engineering, mathematics education

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 12:00am
U.S. Army

SAN ANTONIO -- Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite has a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, that spans more than three decades. In his roles as deputy chief of engineers for the Department of the Army and deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he is looking for ways to help inspire that same passion in STEM in students across the country.

"I drive to work every day excited to build things. I've been doing this for 35 years," Semonite said. "This is how we get these kids to leverage the passion for robotics, technology, or engineering, to continue to step up to any discipline."

Semonite was among Army representatives helping support the U.S. Army All-American Bowl VEX Robotics Competition, where hundreds of students competed in San Antonio.

"Just to see something you think up in your head and actually building it in real life and seeing it compete and actually move, that's pretty awesome," said Zachary Ahmed, a VEX Robotics student competitor from Galveston, Texas.

"This is a robotics competition where we have more than 50 teams from schools throughout Texas competing to perform their best and qualify for the South Texas Regional Championship," said Jason Morrella, president, Robotics Education and Competition Foundation.

The San Antonio competition is one of a series of VEX Robotics Competitions managed by the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, that students around the world participate in internationally throughout the year. The season culminates in April with the much anticipated annual VEX Robotics Competition World Championship, that attracts more than 800 teams from around the world, for three full days of competition.

"There are actually over 9,000 teams in this program, in 28 different countries. It's the largest middle school and high school robotics program in the world," Morrella said.

The Robotics Education and Competition Foundation is delighted with the program growth in Texas, due in part to the support of the U.S. Army, which provided 32 team grants to start new teams in the state this year. In addition, the U.S. Army is the presenting sponsor of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl VEX Robotics Competition.

"The U.S. Army is committed to making this event in San Antonio possible. They are focused on getting local students and schools started in the program through their team grants. The U.S. Army also provided judges and mentors to support the San Antonio event. They're really a great partner," Morrella said. "They are committed to showing these students what they can do to become the leaders of tomorrow."

Maj. Gen. Semonite says the robots are a vehicle to help get students excited about possible careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.

"The VEX Robotics competition is a great example of how exciting engineering can be, and the value of a hands on learning experience," Semonite said. "It goes back to some of those fundamental values we have in the Army of mission accomplishment, teamwork, collaboration."

Approximately 600 students competed in two different divisions at the San Antonio VEX Robotics Competition.

"I'm definitely impressed by the Army's investment in us, because I really think they are trying to better America," said Cedric Shy, a VEX Robotics student competitor from Houston, Texas.

At the San Antonio competition, the Tournament Champions, which included three teams, the Excellence award winning team, and the Design award recipient all qualified for the chance to compete in the South Texas Regional VEX Robotics Competition in League City, Texas, and the U.S. Open VEX Robotics Championship in Omaha, Nebraska.

Semonite met with some student competitors at the San Antonio event to discuss how they built their robots, and what interests them about STEM. Of the more than 150 career options in the Army, STEM-elated job opportunities are among the fastest growing.

"We're an Army based on technology. We have to be able to leverage the best and the brightest emerging technologies out there," Semonite said. "We need bright minds that can think outside of the box and continue to leverage this capability. We're just appreciative of the fact that someday they can go on to do great things for our Army or for America."

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