CMSE Student Coaches Team to Success at Statewide, World Robotics Competitions

Team Purple Thunder won first and second place statewide; later placed 13th out of 64 teams in their division in St. Louis

Ray Holt, inventor of the world's first microprocessor and School of Education grad. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Ray Holt dramatically impacted the worlds of computer science and flight in 1970 when he invented the world’s first microprocessor chip, a technological leap that enabled the U.S. military to run integrated flight control systems in the F-14 “Tomcat” fighter plane.

Forty-three years later, the retired Silicon Valley computer designer completed his Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction degree as a graduate fellow at the University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education. Using his engineering experience to teach underprivileged children about science and robotics, Holt was rewarded when the Mount Olive, Miss., team – which placed 1st and 2nd in two categories in Mississippi’s first statewide robotics competition – also did well at the World Robotics Competition in St. Louis.

“The robotics kids placed 13 out of 64 in their division and was the top-rated first-time team,” Holt said. “I am extremely proud of their performance which included a presentation and robot competitions. They won 6 out of 8 matches.  I am extremely proud of their presentation. They did very well.”

Alex Cheng, dean of the UM School of Engineering, spoke to Holt’s students when they visited the Oxford campus between competitions. Impressed by a presentation the team made, he anticipated their continued success.

“Congratulations to Team Purple Thunder,” Cheng said. “I watched the presentation and it was great!”

While living in Oklahoma, Holt was invited by a friend, Dr. Dolphus Weary, from Mississippi to visit his nonprofit ministry, R.E.A.L. Christian Foundation.

“He said he would have me go around and check out the computers in the ministries,” Holt said. “After two weeks, I knew I should stay. I liked helping rural ministries.”

After deciding to stay in the state, Holt met Tony Duckworth of Mount Olive Ministries in Mount Olive. The organization provides children and teenagers with educational opportunities to promote an interest in academics and helps prevent students from dropping out of high school.

“Ray’s attitude about his achievements inspired our kids to dream again,” Duckworth said. “They know that their dreams can become a reality.”

Holt suggested starting a robotics class to spark an interest in the students. It worked. During the first-ever statewide high school robotics competition hosted by the CMSE in February, Holt’s group (dubbed Team Purple Thunder), took first and second place in two categories. The win qualified them to compete against 128 other robotics teams in the FIRST World Robotics Championship in April.

“He really inspired us to do well in the competitions,” said Mount Olive student Whitney Schrieber. “We’re just a small town that never really gets anything, and he teaches us so much.”

Holt said he is as much surprised by the turn of events as his students.

“Seeing the struggling that youth have in Mount Olive, I had no idea it would grow to this,” he said. “Our first goal was to make sure none of our children drop out of high school and the second one was that their GPA would be at least a 3.0. Now nine out of 11 students make straight A’s. Two of our past students have been accepted into Ole Miss. In the next few years, we could have as many as ten more accepted.”

Offered at UM since 2010, the MACI degree is a one-year master’s degree designed to help college graduates with non-education degrees transition into teaching at the secondary level. The CMSE, directed by John O’Haver, professor of chemical engineering, offered Holt a fellowship that included full tuition, an office space at the center and access to a variety of professional development and educational materials.

“This degree has been way too much work to say it’s just for me,” Holt said. “I fell into robotics here, but working with youth is my passion.”

Any Ole Miss student who would like to be a guest speaker or present a lesson to Holt’s students should contact him at This program meets most Saturdays during the school year.

Visit Team Purple Thunder’s FaceBook page at or see them perform on YouTube at You can also visit Ray’s F-14 home page at: