Press Release

Release Date: August 03, 2023
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

A team from Ada, Oklahoma recently earned third place in their division in the VEX Robotics World Championship, which drew more than 800 qualified teams from across the globe to Dallas, Texas.

Middle schoolers Bryce Broome, Jackson Wilson, and Zakkary McFarland comprise the Tashka Tali’ (Metal Warrior) team from the Chickasaw Nation Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy, which placed third out of 79 teams in their division.

The team began its divisional competition May 1, and the world championship lasted three days.
“I am excited we went to Dallas and competed against teams that are really, really good,” Bryce said. “If a team was at the world championship, you know they are good. It was interesting to see what the other robots looked like and how they performed.”

During the championship – and at previous qualifiers leading up to the championship – team Tashka Tali' designed and programmed robots to shoot and slide discs across a playing field to score points. The primary objective of the game was to accumulate points by removing small discs from dispensers and placing them into goal zones.

“My favorite part about the competition is designing robots to do specific tasks,” Zakkary said. “You can put whatever parts you want on the robot, as long as they are approved. We all work together. We design, build and all drive the robot at competitions. We each do it all.”

Points were awarded based on the number of discs removed from each dispenser, which varied in difficulty of height, location and ejection method. Robots must then be operated to the opposite side of the game field and placed into varying goal zones.

“The finals were close matches,” said Clayton Edwards, mentor at the STEM Academy. “We missed taking second place by three points. The difference between first and third place was only 25 points. Some of the scoring had to do with luck and who we were partnered with.”

While team Tashka Tali' worked alone to build and design its robots, the team competed in both individual and teamwork events during the championship. Known as alliance events, teams were not identified until the competition began.

“It was a hard fight at the world championship,” Bryce said. “We had to push to get our robot working better after the state qualifier. It was really a team effort. We all pitched in.”

VEX-IQ is one of the latest programs offered at the STEM Academy. It is an intermediate stage of the robotics program provided at the STEM Academy. It is designed for seventh and eighth graders. VEX-IQ bridges the age gap between the younger FIRST LEGO® League (FLL) participants and FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) high school youth.

“Next year I will be in FTC,” Jackson said. “My brother and I have been in robotics since I can remember. I definitely will be part of the high school robotics team. I want to be part of this for as long as I can. My brother was in this, too. He is now in college.”

Members of the 2023 Tashka Tali' team have varied experience. Jackson has been involved with the STEM Academy and robot building for seven years, while this is the first year for Bryce. Their educations are varied as well. Bryce and Zakkary are both home-schooled, while Jackson attends Byng Junior High School. Teachers and academics understand STEM-based programs help children learn.

“VEX-IQ and being on the robotics team helps satisfy my science requirements,” Zakkary said. “My teacher let me write about the tournament. I received extra credit in science. Home-schoolers have an advantage in that we have more time to dedicate to the team and the build.”

According to STEM Academy Manager Luke Kerr, VEX-IQ robotics provides fundamentals from both beginner and advanced robotics programs, tying together the two with easy-to-use build components and programming.
The VEX Robotics World Championship was presented by the prestigious Northrop Grumman Foundation, one of the world’s leaders in aerospace and defense technology.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I joined the team,” Bryce said. “On the first day, our mentor, Clayton, introduced me to all the parts of the robot. I went from there. This is a challenge. Building the robots is challenging. I like coming every week.”

To advance to the VEX Robotics World Championship, team Tashka Tali' qualified at the VEX-IQ Middle School State Championship that took place March 4 at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
After numerous rounds of skills and qualification matches during the state championship, the team fought their way up the rankings. The Tashka Tali' team finished the state qualifier tournament as Teamwork Challenge Champions, along with their alliance team partners.

“I really like working as a team,” Zakkary said. “I am learning how to communicate with others. In the process, I am making great friends. We have gotten where we are through teamwork.”

About the Chickasaw Nation STEM Academy

The Chickasaw Nation STEM Academy is housed in a 7,000-square-foot facility that provides a home and dedicated location to conduct year-round STEM themed camps, clinics, robotics team meetings and additional events. Participants in these programs reflect all grade ranges, from kindergarteners to high school seniors.

The STEM Academy encourages critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Programs within the STEM Academy are designed to excite students, inspiring them to seek a career in STEM-related fields.

Along with Kerr, a team of skilled educators are officed at the STEM Academy. They provide mentorship to students participating in STEM Academy activities. The building is also home for the FIRST® family of programs. These include eight robotics teams, with a senior level team.

Other annual programs that take place within the facility include the Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy (CNASA) and FemSTEM.

“The origin of the STEM Academy is centered around CNASA,” Kerr said. “It’s our longest running summer camp. It began in 2003, leading the way for a dedicated full-time STEM program. CNASA is special in that it focuses STEM education specifically toward fields of flight. We do this through a variety of fun and engaging hands-on experiences and activities.”

Catering to middle school aged girls, FemSTEM addresses the gender gap found in STEM fields. FemSTEM introduces young, female learners to new ideas in a female-only environment. The girls take part in hands-on activities, field trips and lectures from professional female speakers working in the STEM fields.

At its peak, more than 50 elementary, middle and high school students will meet regularly at the STEM Academy. They prepare for robotics competitions at the regional, state and national levels.

The Chickasaw Nation STEM Academy addresses educational deficits concerning First Americans and higher education. According to information from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, First Americans represent less than 1% of all postsecondary enrollment. First Americans are also under-represented in all STEM fields.

Learn more about STEM Academy at