RADCLIFF, Ky. (Dec. 1, 2017) -- Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs across the 7th Brigade footprint are receiving early Christmas presents. They aren't toys in a traditional sense, but to the engineering-minded students at the schools, the Vex Robotics kits the brigade is providing will provide hours of fun and learning.

The brigade, in partnership with the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation (REC), is providing 60 robotics kits and four arenas to schools to help JROTC programs with getting their VEX Robotics programs off the ground.

According to the REC website, the foundation seeks to increase student interest and involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by engaging students in hands-on sustainable and affordable curriculum-based robotics engineering programs across the U.S. and internationally. As part of building the robots and participating in robotics competitions, participants are exposed to engineering, robotics, computer coding and mechanics.

Col. Lance Oskey, Cadet Command 7th Brigade commander, attended the VEX Robotics World Championship last year in Louisville and it generated immediate interest. He said he sees several possible positive outcomes resulting from providing schools with the robotics kits.

"Part of the partnership was to introduce the STEM into our JROTC Cadets programs, but it was also to strengthen relationships between the JROTC programs and the schools," he said. "We're trying to determine if this is perhaps a future of all of our JROTCs where we can maybe replace an academic bowl that relies on citing information, to showcasing a STEM skill in robotics -- that's something we are looking at.

"These students are really helping us as we figure out our way forward on how to integrate and update our JROTC curriculum, and the way that we educate the Cadets," he added."

Melissa Mills, "Project Lead the Way" Engineering teacher at North Hardin High School, Radcliff, Ky., said the donation to her school is a much appreciated learning tool.

"I was so excited when this came. It was like Christmas to me! And my kids were so excited," she said. "It's been wonderful, and you have no idea just how appreciative we are because this has brought so much to North Hardin and our kids."

"With us having the robot and the arena, now, they can actually play this game," said Mills. "Some of our kids don't necessarily have the opportunity to get to Elizabethtown to be on the VEX robotics team, but this gives all of my engineering students the chance to do this. This allows all of my engineering students to participate so we are greatly appreciate for that."

Matthew Palumbo, lead staff officer for the VEX initiative at 7th Brigade, said while the robots kits can be fun, they are also a great educational tool.

"Robotics team participants are able to be innovative as they design their robots to complete various tasks associated with the current year's game," he said. "This encourages them to critically think, problem solve and apply a wide range of skills while engaging themselves in everything from robot construction, manipulation and strategizing game play."

Palumbo added, that's something that could be an added benefit to all JROTC programs.

"Currently we are looking to turn this program into a pilot program across the brigade because STEM skills are becoming more essential as technology grows and seeps into most facets of everyday life," he said. "As part of the mission of promoting better citizenship in our JROTC Cadets, we can provide future leaders with valuable skills to the public once they graduate high school and progress to their next step whether it be college, the military or directly to the work force."