Students demonstrate robots at math, computer science day

Calhoun High School students show their peers how a robot they built throws Frisbees during Tuesday’s University of Houston-Victoria/Victoria College Math & Computer Science Awareness Day.


Students from Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca had a rare opportunity on Tuesday to show off their hard work creating a robot that throws Frisbees.

The Calhoun students were some of more than 150 area students from 11 different high schools who participated in the University of Houston-Victoria/Victoria College Math & Computer Science Awareness Day. The event coincided with April’s national Math Awareness Month and Robotics Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Mathematics of Sustainability.” It was made possible by a grant from Alcoa Foundation.

The event centered on written math and computer science tests, which were scored individually and as a team. It also included two team game show competitions, robot demonstrations, interaction with area professionals and the opportunity for students to meet peers with similar interests.

“We enjoy participating in this event because our students don’t get to interact with others who enjoy building robots like they do,” said Jeff Williams, a Calhoun High School teacher. “They had fun showing off their hard work.”

The robot the Calhoun High School students demonstrated was originally built for a FIRST Robotics Competition they recently competed in.

Students from an Alcoa Foundation-sponsored program also had their robots on hand for the event’s exposition. Ten area high school students meet each week with Alireza Tavakkoli, a UHV assistant professor and director of the university’s digital gaming and simulation program, to learn about robotics and computer programming. The robots they built using advanced LEGO robotics kits sort colored balls and launch them. Other robots use artificial intelligence to navigate a maze.

Other organizations participating in the exposition included the Victoria Independent School District robotics program, Victoria ISD engineering program, Caterpillar, CivilCorp, UHV School of Nursing and Victoria College business and computer programs.

“UHV/VC Math & Computer Science Awareness Day is fantastic because we get to see students who are motivated and want to challenge themselves academically,” said Kevin Riggs, engineering manager at Alcoa Point Comfort Operations. “Seeing a room full of sharp, young people bodes well for the future of our math and computer science industries.”

Riggs was part of a group of Alcoa employees who spoke to the students about the company and how to get into the engineering industry. He advised them to focus on what makes them happy when picking a future career.

“It’s important to combine interests and given abilities to really succeed and be happy in a career,” he said. “Students need to find what they like and what they want to work on every day, and not choose a career on the basis of salary alone.”

Overall, the day was a success, said Tavakkoli, one of the organizers of UHV/VC Math & Computer Science Awareness Day.

“This is all about the students and for the students,” Tavakkoli said. “This year, we reached our maximum capacity of attendees for the event. We hope we can grow it in the future so more students can participate.”

The event concluded with an awards ceremony for the competitions. The top-scoring teams in the math and computer science tests received trophies and certificates. Top-scoring individuals received a laptop, iPad or electrical engineering kit. Two teams were game show winners. Each person on a winning game show team won a robotics kit. The winners were:

Team Awards
First – Kevin and Melissa Clark, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

Second – Joseph Bednarczyk and Jake Smitherman, Victoria West

Third – John Gee, James Hsu, Jessie Sun and Jason Wang, Calhoun High School

Individual Awards
First – Kevin Clark, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

Second – Wenjie Ma, St. Paul High School in Shiner

Third – John Gee, Calhoun High

Team Awards
First – John Gee, Jason Wang, James Hsu and Kevin Chang, Calhoun High

Second – Kevin and Melissa Clark, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

Third – Juan Solano, Drew Herndon and Dalton Weaver, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

Individual Awards
First – John Gee, Calhoun High

Second – James Hsu, Calhoun High

Third – Jason Wang, Calhoun High

Ariana Felder, Josh Kayl, Sophia Muzquiz and Chris Saenz, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

Sean Adames, Robert Barrera, David Bengtson and Aaron Zapalac, Victoria Area Center for Advanced Learning

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Katy Walterscheidt 361-570-4342