‘Largest robotics competition in the world brings AFJROTC cadets’ STEM skills to life’

  • Published
  • By Christian P. Hodge, Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

Air Force Junior ROTC robotics teams did not need AI to cogitate themselves to unprecedented success at the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation’s 2023 VEX Robotics World Championship April 25 – May 4 in Dallas.

Eleven AFJROTC units competed against 119 JROTC teams from the other services at the internationally attended event where they were joined by thousands of other young people interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

"Our cadets are enthusiastic to learn about robotics and other STEM related subjects because they are both fun and challenging. What better experience could there be than here at the VEX Championship, where they not only do they get to compete against their peers but also meet similarly interested students from across the country and around the world,” said R. Wayne. Barron, Leadership Development Program Manager, Headquarters AFJROTC. “Competitions like this develop leadership and communications skills, analytical thinking and project management. All skills tomorrow’s leaders will need.”

The REC Foundation’s VEX family of robotics programs for elementary school through college students includes 1.1 million students in 70 countries, according to their website. These programs offer a direct response to workforce and industry needs with participants more likely to consider studying STEM. It does this with exciting, open-ended robotics challenges that enhance their STEM skills through hands-on, student-centered learning, the website says.

“At the VEX Championship JROTC teams compete in their own division,” said Barron. “Air Force JROTC teams won four awards with one of them being the top award – the Excellence Award!”

The winners are:

  • TX-20066, Cold Spring-Oakhurst High School, Cold Spring, TX, won the Excellence Award, presented to a team that exemplifies overall excellence in building a high-quality robotics program and represents the best overall robotics program in JROTC.
  • IA-951, Abraham Lincoln High School, Council Bluff, IA, won the Amaze Award for the best designed robot.
  • MS-081, South Panola High School, Batesville MS, won the Inspire Award, presented to the team that has inspired judges with their approach to the VEX Robotics program.
  • TX-924, I.H. Kempner High School, Sugar Land, TX, won the Sportsmanship Award, presented to the team that demonstrates excitement and enthusiasm throughout the event; interacts with event volunteers in a respectful and helpful manner, is willing to help; and interacts with other teams in the friendly spirit of competition.

“This was the first year for our Kempner robotics teams to compete at VEX World’s and they were overjoyed with the opportunity to volunteer and to be able to compete,” said Retired Major Tonia Y. Howze, TX-924, I.H. Kempner High School AFJROTC Senior Aerospace Science Instructor.

Howze has been a staple in the AFJROTC robotics and drone community for a few years. Among her many hats, aside from being the recent, former Department Head of this year’s Excellence Award winner Cold Spring-Oakhurst High School, Howze is also a VEX Robotics VRC Coach, VEX Robotics VRC Event Partner, REC Foundation Aerial Drone Competition Coach and REC Foundation Aerial Drone Competition Event Partner.


“It was an opportunity for our cadets to collaborate, meet of teams from other states and countries, and most importantly, gives parents an opportunity to see the big picture of VEX VRC (VEX Robotics Competition) and how important STEM is in our AFJROTC programs,” she said.

According to the VEX website, all students are natural scientists and engineers. They love to question, tinker, experiment and play. VEX competitions foster these skills and capitalize on the motivational effects of competitions and robotics to help all students create an identity as a STEM learner. VEX competitions are also a great way to expose students to valuable soft skills like communication, collaboration and time-management in a fun and authentic way.

For more information on the VEX Championship and robotics programs go to their website.