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Bearkats, 'Bugs' Help Bring Out The BEST In Local Youth

Nov. 17, 2011
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

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Teams of sixth- through 12th-grade students showed off their mathematical and mechanical skills during the inaugural SHSU-hosted Boosting Engineering Science and Technology competition last month. SHSU students served as mentors and judges for the competition, which required students to create "bug"-collecting robots. —Submitted photos.


When giant, mutated bugs escaped their research laboratory and scurried to Sam Houston State University’s Johnson Coliseum on Oct. 29, Bearkats searched far and wide for a team of heroes to safely rescue the prized specimens.

Then, in walked the “Black Eyed Bees,” a team of sixth through 10th grade students from College Station’s Cornerstone Christian Academy to save the day.

Their secret weapon: a bug-saving robot named “Imma Bee.”

To the relief of many, these mutant insects were no more than Styrofoam balls, socks filled with kidney beans and battery-powered toy cockroaches. These “bugs” were the theme of SHSU’s inaugural Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) competition, a six-week-long robot rivalry that put local sixth through 12th grade engineers to the test.

Twenty-one teams from the Huntsville and Brazos areas participated in the Game Day Competition at SHSU. Each school brought numerous fans to cheer on the teams throughout the afternoon’s events.

During the robotics portion of the tournament, the young students had three minutes to maneuver their robots to scoop, grab and transport the mock “bugs” to sectioned areas.

Even the simplest mechanical function proved a big stride for the students, given that six weeks prior to Game Day their “robots” were nothing more than plywood and a box filled with a random assortment of items such as PVC pipe, duct tape, paper clips and a bicycle inner tube.

Each fall, the kit is distributed to all 750 middle and high schools that participate in BEST competitions nationwide. All schools, including public, private and home school groups or organizations schools, are welcomed to compete in the annual events free of charge.

As a result of participating in BEST, students are able to gain conceptual knowledge of math concepts and applied physics as well as receive recognition and acclaim typically reserved for peers in sports, according to assistant professor of computer science Li-Jen Shannon.

A non-profit organization, BEST is designed to engage and excite students about engineering, science and technology and encourage them to pursue careers in these fields through the help of volunteers.

Volunteer opportunities served as the main reason why Shannon said she first wanted to make the university a BEST “hub” (or competition site) last year.

“The experience provided the perfect opportunity for our students to lend a hand and get hands-on teaching experience in their career fields,” said Shannon, who now serves as the director for the new Southeast Texas hub.

The hub was made possible through a merge with the Brazos BEST program, who offered to join forces with Shannon after the university provided a solution to their shortage of volunteers, according to Shannon.

When the event became finalized, many of Shannon’s computer science students were eager to serve as teams’ student mentors during the developmental process leading up to Game Day.

In addition to designing and building their robots, teams were required to create marketing presentations and websites for the Game Day competition.

Being the “best of BEST” required more than impressive robotics skills.

In addition to building their machines, teams were also required to create an art design, marketing presentation, website and team exhibit during the six-week time frame.

When various teams requested help in these areas, Shannon began reaching out to other SHSU departments finding students were “eager to volunteer and help any way they could,” Shannon said.

In total, more than 130 SHSU student volunteers from various departments, including agricultural and industrial science, art, curriculum and instruction, and computer science, served as team mentors during the tournament’s six-week preparation process.

Despite their routine advisement, it was up to the middle and high school students to get the job done. Students solely created all of the required competition materials and persuaded judges during their Game Day presentations.

After the day’s events had concluded, a panel of SHSU student-judges chose the “Black Eyed Bees” team as the recipient of the first-place BEST award, the events’ top all-around honor for marketing, exhibition, engineering and robotics. Their robot “Imma Be,” as well as the robots of three other top-placing teams, earned a spot in the “Best of BEST” robot line-up at the statewide BEST tournament later this fall.

According to Shannon, the day was a tri-fold success. The 2011 BEST Competition let SHSU students live up the university’s motto, “The measure of Life is its Service”, promoted the university and provided a form of “educational fun” for local youth.

“I heard numerous stories from other hubs of how many borderline students were turned around when they found an interest in physics, engineering, science, and other subjects,” Shannon said. “The BEST Robotic program truly has the power to change children’s lives.”

For more information on the program, visit the BEST webpage at http://www.bestinc.org/.



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