EDINBURG - There could only be three winning teams, but all 1,250-plus students participating in UTRGV’s University Transportation Center for Railway Safety’s (UTRCRS) Railway Safety Summer Camps walked away champions.
“It is amazing what kids can pick up,” said Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, UTCRS director and a mechanical engineering professor, Bentsen Fellow and associate dean for Research at UTRGV.
“I’ve never seen such excitement. This morning for the competition, the elementary school students came in with a mission, with a real plan,” he said. “And the programming level at the middle school group is just amazing. They are at such an advanced level that our teachers had to do homework over the weekend just to catch up.”
Tarawneh urged parents who attended the closing ceremonies to continue encouraging their children to pursue careers related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“They really have a bright future,” he said.
Participating parents and students from K-12 school districts throughout the Rio Grande Valley visited the UTRGV Performing Arts Complex Auditorium to celebrate completion of the five-week summer camps and to find out who had won the final competition earlier in the day.
They also heard encouraging words from U.S. Rep Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) to continue pursuing STEM-related careers. He and the UTRGV officials praised the parents for being there for their children.
“Parental support is the key to the success,” Hinojosa said.
UTRGV in early June welcomed the more than 1,250 students from elementary to high school to its Edinburg Campus for weeklong camps, where they built LEGO robots, magnetic levitating trains and bumper cars, all geared to teach them the important roles STEM fields play in creating safe transportation.
The five-week camps are the largest STEM-related camps ever held at UTRGV and the largest transportation-related summer camps in the nation. A different group of students from area districts participated each week, with an average of 250 students attending weekly.
Students were challenged with a variety of activities, like building and programming a robot functional for railway safety and creating sensor-programmed bumper cars.
The camps culminated with a final competition that yielded winners in elementary, middle and high school categories. Students who won the camp’s weekly contests were eligible to compete in the final competition, where students were tasked with using what they had learned in camp to build their projects from scratch.
Elementary school contestants designed a levitating train that would be safe for transporting more than 100 passengers.
Middle school students designed and programed a robot that would be able to safely transport an unknown hazardous material.
High school students designed and programmed a robot that was able to carry hazardous waste that could navigate a maze and a variety of obstacles.
ENGINEERS IN THE MAKING
Jefferey Euler, 10, from McKeever Elementary School in Alamo, said building the levitating train was exciting.
“My favorite part of building this train was the positive train control,” Euler said, “because it allows the train to stop safely and protect the passengers.”
This is the second year Gabrielle Garza, 13, a student at W.B. Green Junior High in La Feria, has attended the Railway Safety summer camp. Last year, her elementary school team took second place in the final competition.
Garza said she has been inspired by the summer camp to choose an engineering career when she goes to college.
“In this camp, I’ve learned how to build and program a robot, and I think that’s essential if I want to study engineering,” she said. “I want to study mechanical engineering. I really like building robots. I love that this camp helps us learn more about what engineering really is.”
Edwin Segovia, a 16-year-old rising junior at PSJA Southwest Early College High School, said he learned a lot from the camp.
“There are a lot of challenges that we overcome during these camps,” he said. “I learned a lot about programming, and about using all the different programs to use machines.”
UTRGV’s legacy institution, UT Pan American, formed the UTRCRS – a consortium with Texas A&M University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that conducts research on how to make railways safer – in 2014 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The center also created the summer camps that same year to provide opportunities for K-12 students to learn more about science and engineering and consider pursuing STEM-related careers.
FINAL COMPETITION WINNERS
Jacky Chapa – fifth grade, Hidalgo ISD - Dr. A. Salinas Elementary.
Itzel Jaramillo – fifth grade, Hidalgo ISD - Dr. A. Salinas Elementary.
Mireya Hernandez – fifth grade, Hidalgo ISD- Dr. A. Salinas Elementary.
Nicolas Reyna – eighth grade, Mission Junior High School, and Boy Scout Troop 83.
Ryan Zamora – eighth grade, Memorial Middle School in Mission, and Boy Scout Troop 83.
Denycia Rubio – 10th grade, La Feria High School.
Alonzo Salazar – 10th grade, La Feria High School.
Alejandro Gonzalez – 10th grade, La Feria High School.
Jacob Segovia – 10th grade, La Feria High School.