STEM Academy

Seated in a classroom of the STEM Academy at Shoemaker High School on Tuesday, academy coordinator Sandra Melendez and SHS junior Ellie Stam show off a fraction of the robotics competition items flowing into the school from $20,000 in robotics education grants. The robot at right is the Vex robot the school's Cyberwolves robotics team designed last year for competition. The school will host its own event Dec. 7.


The classrooms and robotics lab that make up the STEM Academy facilities at Shoemaker High School are taking on the look of a mailroom these days.

Sandra Melendez, STEM coordinator and teacher, picked up a few more boxes from what seems like a never-ending delivery — all of it free.

Shoemaker won more than $20,000 in separate grants, mainly from a Texas Workforce Commission Robotics Education and Competition Foundation initiative to support technology education.

The grant includes eight Vex Robotics kits worth $2,000 apiece and two 12-by-12-foot robotics competition fields, composed of foam pieces and other mechanics worth about $5,000.

What all that means is that Shoemaker High School will host a high school robotics event Dec. 7 with about 30 teams from a broad Central Texas area to compete with Vex robots.

The face of the STEM Academy at Shoemaker is the Cyberwolves robotics team, which began with the high school’s opening in 2000 and has become a mainstay at competitions across Texas and beyond.

More growth

The academy continues to grow steadily in its offerings in science, technology, engineering and math, and more students are moving into those classes, including an honors level Career and Technology Education robotics course.

The large grant is one more way, Melendez said, to expose students in and out of the program to the excitement of competing while learning engineering through design-and-build projects.

“It means new supplies and materials for us to use and that we can stay current,” Melendez said. “The funding for the fields means our students can compete and practice and can host events.”

In the past, the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation has hosted Texas events only in Greenville and Galveston. The TWC/REC partnership is adding 400 competitions nationwide, according to its website.

The December competition in Killeen will include volunteer adopt-a-school soldiers, as well as band and National Honor Society students and of course, many Shoemaker STEM students.

Chance to compete

Ellie Stam, a Shoemaker junior and STEM Academy officer, said the local event will give her peers a great chance to build and compete and to run a competition.

“We participate in a lot of competitions,” she said. “To run a competition will give us a chance to see everything, all the inner workings.”

October marks the middle of the BEST Robotics season, another kind of robot. BEST stands for Boosting Engineering Science and Technology.

Shoemaker team members will attend a practice day Oct. 19 in Austin that includes events at the Texas State History Museum and public promotion for the event.

The Cyberwolves will be back on the road for the actual Capitol BEST Robotics competition Oct. 26 at Round Rock High School.

Students love the interaction with team members and meeting students from other schools with similar techie passions.

“This is more hands-on than other classes,” Stam said. “Even in sports you end up placed in a specific position. In robotics you find your own niche. We design and get hands-on experience.”

Already a veteran of robotics events, Stam said she is pretty sure she will pursue a career in design engineering.

Sophomore Nathan Fuzey is finding his niche, too, more in the arena of software and programming.

He is working on the programming of the team’s Vex robot.

“For me, the entire STEM program is exciting,” he said. “I love software and helping people to understand the program and what we’re doing.

“This is making me learn to interact with people,” he said, “and I think I’m seeing what the future will look like.”

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