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HESTEC celebrates 10 years of innovation

The University of Texas-Pan American is celebrating its 10th anniversary Sept. 26-Oct. 1 of educating Hispanic youth about the many opportunities available to them in the STEM careers. UTPA and U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) started the weeklong conference to encourage Hispanic students in the Rio Grande Valley to pursue STEM-related careers, since employees in those fields are in high demand.

Mariel Robles wants girls to know that engineering is not just about fixing or designing cars. It also is an industry that needs their input.

"We lack the female perspective in science and innovation," said Robles, a 2006 UTPA graduate who earned a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering. "Everything is designed by men for men."

Robles, who served as the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coordinator for IDEA Public Schools from 2009-2011 and is currently working on her master's degree in engineering education at The University of Texas at Austin, said she used to take her students -- mostly female -- to compete in the annual Robotics Day competition at UTPA during the University's Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week.

Robles said her students loved participating in the robotics competition, which required them to build and program remote control-powered LEGO Mindstorms robots and have them battle other teams' robots.

"My students, after going through the program, feel that they can do things that they never thought that they could do," she said. "They feel like they can change the world and start thinking when I grow up I want to be a robotics engineer. Because of that, because of HESTEC, they feel powerful, they feel that if they can create that, if they can program a little LEGO robot, they can create larger things."

This year's theme is "A Decade of Innovation" and will include hands-on activities for teachers and students, exhibits from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), a question-and-answer session between NASA astronaut Michael Fossum and several hundred middle school students, a Congressional Roundtable discussion with representatives from the government, industries and educational institutions and a Community Day featuring live music, food and activities for the public.

HESTEC 2011 begins Monday, Sept. 26 with Educator Day, in which about 1,000 middle school math and science teachers will come to campus to learn new, innovative ways to teach their subjects to students and inspire them to continue their studies in the STEM fields.

Educators will also hear from leaders of industry, government and education on how to improve teaching math and science to students during a Congressional Roundtable discussion led by Hinojosa and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

Comedian and motivational speaker Shayla Rivera will moderate the roundtable discussion and TV host Bill Nye, the Science Guy, will deliver the afternoon keynote address.

During Student Leadership Day on Tuesday, Sept. 27, hundreds of middle school students will talk with NASA astronaut and McAllen native Michael Fossum and his colleagues aboard the International Space Station via NASA Downlink at the UTPA Fieldhouse during HESTEC Student Leadership Day.

Children also will hear from leaders of various STEM-related industries about what opportunities are available to them, as well as from actor and motivational speaker Moises Arias, who has starred in TV shows including "Hannah Montana" and "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody."

Tuesday also begins the four-day exhibit Middle School Challenge, which includes many hands-on science experiments for children. The Middle School Challenge, which includes Colorado State University's "Little Shop of Physics," was funded by a $49,999 grant from the NSF.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Latina teenagers and their mothers or other female relatives will hear from women who have broken barriers in their careers during HESTEC's Latina Day. Throughout the day, the girls and their relatives will hear from women who are working in STEM fields about their journey toward success and receive advice on how they can follow suit.

Hundreds of middle school students from all over South Texas will vie for the regional championship during Robotics Day Thursday, Sept. 29. Sixty teams will program and navigate remote-control powered drones through a series of obstacle courses. Prizes will be awarded to the three teams who score the most points.

UTPA will also host hundreds of high school students from all over South Texas during its first SeaPerch competition at the University's natatorium Friday, Sept. 30. The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Navy, will have students construct and operate via remote control a robot that can perform several tasks underwater.

While high school students are learning how to navigate robots underwater, current UTPA students and alumni will learn to navigate the job market during the University's annual Career Expo at the UTPA Fieldhouse. Those seeking work or internship opportunities can talk with representatives from a variety of potential employers, including some Fortune 500 companies.

HESTEC culminates Saturday, Oct. 1 with its annual Community Day from 4-10 p.m., which will feature actor and TV host Mario Lopez and performances by country music star Clay Walker and the Science Cheerleaders. Community Day also will include exhibits on display for the public and the Elliot Chemical Society's Magic Show conducted by UTPA students.

For more information about HESTEC, visit www.hestec.org.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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