• Max Smith (left) and Nate Hutson do a test run of their Lego Mindstorms robot which they constructed for the Texas Computer Education Association State Mindstorms Robotics Challenge. Courtesy photo
  • Pictured from left to right are Lizzy Tenut, Hannah Tenut and Abby Tenut who are constructing a rollercoaster from K’NEX as part of the Graham Robotics Academy program. Courtesy photo
  •  Mitzi Morrison (center) receives the Medal of Freedom Award which is awarded to chapter members who have shown enthusiasm and drive to support the Texas Air Force Associations objectives. Pictured with Morrison from left to right are Brayden Gipson, Dave Dietsch, Mike Winslow, Lats Hansson and Will Busey.

New program partners Robotics Academy, Air Force Association

A new CyberPatriot program to encourage students to pursue Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers was recently implemented by the director of the Robotics Academy in Graham, Mitzi Morrison.
The CyberPatriot program is the Air Force Association's National Youth Cyber Education Program, which was created to motivate students towards careers in cybersecurity and STEM disciplines. Participants in the program compete in the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, which involves students identifying and securing known vulnerabilities on a virtual network – in other words, hacking into the network.
Morrison learned about the CyberPatriot program through AFA briefings and site visits to schools that have successfully integrated the program. Since learning about the program she has formed a team in Graham and traveled to other school districts to spread the word about the cybersecurity and STEM program.
“Our whole focus is promoting STEM education wherever in Texas we can promote it,” Morrison said.
Morrison was provided the software for the program from the AFA for free, but she said the software alone can cost thousands of dollars. The Rotary Club in Graham helped provide a new computer for the students participating in the program.
The National Youth Cyber Defense Competition is a tournament event in which teams of two to five students are scored on how well they identify and secure known vulnerabilities on a virtual network. After of series of online qualification rounds, the top teams can advance to the National Finals Competition held in Baltimore, Md.
No prior knowledge of cybersecurity is required as training materials are designed so any student can excell within the program. Online qualification rounds will be in November, December, January and February with no travel required.
Competition winners are awarded scholarships and all registered competitors are eligible to apply for internship opportunities. Morrison hopes more Graham students can be involved so they can easily make the transition to the college of their choice.
“What we are doing is, we are helping kids build a resume in high school and if you have this on your resume, there are a lot of colleges that will take you just because you have that on your resume,” Morrison said.
The Texas Air Force Association recently presented Morrison with the Medal of Freedom Award, given to chapter members who have shown enthusiasm and drive to support AFA objectives.
Morrison started the robotics program in Graham in 2009 with the intent of widening options for students interested in STEM at an early age with training through the Texas Computer Education Association.
“We are members of TCEA and that means as a member of TCEA, all my training is from TCEA, so any training I want on any level of technology I can get from them. That’s how I develop my program, is I get trained through any program that is available for me,” Morrison said.
Mike Winslow, who serves as the chapter president for the AFA, was technical adviser for the Robotics Academy and also helped present the Medal of Freedom award to Morrison. Since the program began, the Faith Center in Graham has hosted the class and Pastor Gary Elrod said it is to offer students in Graham with more educational benefits.
“It wasn’t offered anywhere else and we saw it could be a service to the community and that’s what we are about is trying to serve our community,” Elrod said.  
Other organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary, as well as private donors have noticed the effect of the program and given it funding. The AFA is completely paying for the new CyberPatriot program and Morrison said the Robotics Academy is funded through a monthly fee.
The Robotics Academy is for junior high and elementary level students while the CyberPatriot program is composed of high school students. The robotics classes meet three times a week at the Worship Center in Graham and also compete in the Texas Computer Education Association State Mindstorms Robotics Challenge, but this year Morrison said they will compete in a new contest.
“The inventions contest is where we get to design a robot to do anything we want, but we have to market it just like a corporation, so what that does for a student is after he designs something, he actually has to go in the community and market it,” said Morrison.
The arena contest for the Robotics Academy involves robots completing tasks which are assigned in a 25-page game manual each year. The robot performs the tasks within an 8-foot by 4-foot wooden frame in three two-minute rounds and points, penalties and bonus awards are calculated at the end of each round.
Students in the program have been on trips and with Morrison to work hands-on with different tool such as a bomb defusing robot at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls. The students were also given a tour of the Lockheed Martin Virtual Reality Lab in Fort Worth which Morrison said encouraged some of the students to stay in her programs.  
“I have students who today, because I took them there, I have students today in my high school program because of that. That is how effective taking them to and exposing them to real life robots that they use in the world and taking them to the premier lab in the United States affects kids,” Morrison said.
The state arena and inventions contest for the Robotics Academy will be held in May and enrollment for the Robotics Academy and CyberPatriot program is currently open. For more information, call Morrison at 940-456-1960 or reach her by email at mj-morrison@hotmail.com.

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