High school students, local businesses interact at math, computer science event

Area high school students demonstrate how their robots move through a maze during the University of Houston-Victoria/Victoria College Math & Computer Science Awareness Day. The students are part of an after-school robotics program at UHV that is funded by an Alcoa Foundation grant.

With cheers from the audience, a Victoria West High School sophomore swept the math and computer science competitions for his grade level at Tuesday’s 19th annual University of Houston-Victoria/Victoria College Math & Computer Science Awareness Day.

This isn’t the first time Kevin Clark has won at the event. Last year as a freshman, Clark finished first in the individual math competition against all grades, as well as the team math and computer science competitions. Team competitions were not part of the event this year. Instead, the categories were broken down by grade.

Clark was one of nearly 200 registered participants from 13 public and private high schools, as well as home schooled students, who attended the UHV/VC Math & Computer Science Awareness Day. The event was made possible by a $20,000 grant from Alcoa Foundation.

“The students who attended the event are the best and brightest of the Crossroads region,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and host of the event’s award ceremony. “We are happy to facilitate partnerships in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education between high schools, colleges and area businesses because these students are the future of the science industries.”

Students were able to interact with industry professionals on a one-on-one basis during the event’s expo. Each company demonstrated hands-on activities and experiments for the students. Companies and schools that participated included Alcoa, Diamond Fiberglass, Dow, Invista, Pioneer Natural Resources and the UHV School of Nursing.

In the morning, students attended breakout sessions. Ricardo Teixeira, an assistant professor in the UHV School of Arts & Sciences and director of the event, demonstrated math-related tricks during his “Mathemagics” session. Alexandra Corbin, a UHV senior majoring in mathematics, discussed how math can help solve real-world crimes.

Students also competed in up to two of three areas in math, computer science or a game show event. In the math and computer science competitions, students competed against others in their grade by taking tests. The winner in each grade received a trophy and Kindle Fire HDX. In the game show competition, teams of four students from all grades showed off their knowledge in a fun setting.

The college-level tests require students to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The tests were created by Teixeira and Alireza Tavakkoli, an assistant professor in the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. Erin Gabrysch, a UHV graduate mathematics student, helped organize the testing sessions for the day.

Clark, who wants to have a career in chemistry or law, said the math test was harder this year.

“I was nervous before the tests because I’m not as comfortable with computer science, so I did study a little bit during spring break,” he said. “I watched a few videos about Java and did some math problems.”

Clark also is part of an Alcoa Foundation-funded high school robotics course taught by Tavakkoli. Students in the course showcased robots they built during the event. The robots were programmed to navigate a maze but weren’t performing correctly.

“We realized the floor was slicker than the one we use in our classroom, so the robots were turning more than the 90 degrees they were supposed to turn,” Clark said. “I like when there are problems with the robots because then I have to troubleshoot the situation and find a solution. It’s like a puzzle.”

With support from an Alcoa Foundation grant, UHV was able to continue to broaden the event and the after-school and summer robotics programs for area students.

“We’re proud to partner with UHV and Victoria College to increase interest in technology and manufacturing among young people,” said Ben Kahrs, location manager for Alcoa Point Comfort Operations. “The students gain critical thinking and mathematical problem-solving skills as they design and program their projects.”

Kayla Garrett, a junior at Victoria West who participated in the event and robotics course, said she is grateful for local engineering opportunities in the area so she can mix her love of music and math.

“I want to be an acoustic engineer, so the event and course gave me opportunities to make connections with university faculty and local engineers,” she said. “The experiences are hands on, so I got a lot of engineering practice outside of the classroom.”

Listed below for each UHV/VC Math & Computer Science Awareness Day event are the winners by grade and high school.


Freshmen – Joytirmaya Jain, Liberty Academy, first place; James Easton, Victoria West, second place; Audrey Green, St. Paul in Shiner, third place
Sophomores – Kevin Clark, Victoria West, first; Daycee Bushman, Liberty Academy, second; Catherine Garza, Victoria West, third
Juniors – Jake Smitherman, Victoria West, first; Zoe Ng, Victoria West, second; Wenjie Ma, St. Paul, third
Seniors – David Du, St. Joseph, first; James Semper, Yorktown, second; Ellen Hermes, Victoria West, third


Freshmen – Tyler Lewis, Victoria West, first; Hollis Vela, Victoria West, second; Nick Salazar, Victoria West, third
Sophomores – Kevin Clark, Victoria West, first; Peyton Breech, Victoria Center for Advanced Learning, second; Larken Williams-Capone, Victoria East, third
Juniors – Ludwig Becker, Victoria Center for Advanced Learning, first; Marcus Garza, Faith Academy, second; Zachariah Kunchandy, Faith Academy, third
Seniors – Drew Herndon, Victoria Center for Advanced Learning, first; Marcus Crespin, Victoria Center for Advanced Learning, second; Richard Mesa, Victoria East, third


Two first-place teams – David Du, Hira Malik, Olivia Creager and Johanna Hoang, all of St. Joseph; and Jake Smitherman, Emma Andruss, Ben Morgan and Bao Nguyen, all of Victoria West

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