More than 80 middle- and high-school students from across New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, gathered virtually for the 2020 NM Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology Robotics competition Nov. 21. While the COVID-19 pandemic affected the BEST competition, the 20-year event, hosted by New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering, continued.
The BEST competition engages middle- and high-school students with engineering and technology concepts and skills through participation in a robotics design challenge. Typically teams receive a kit of parts and electronics to design and build remote-controlled robots to accomplish a specific task. This year in Outbreak Online, teams designed and built their robotics prototypes using MATLAB, a software program used by professional engineers and rarely taught until higher education. Students simulated their driver-controlled and autonomous robots on a 3D virtual field. Students still maintained an engineering notebook, prepared marketing presentations and displayed their robot in an exhibit, virtually.
Winners of the 2020 Outbreak competition include Chaparral Middle School from Chaparral, New Mexico, Arrowhead Early College High School from Las Cruces, School of Dreams Academy from Los Lunas, New Mexico, and Franklin High School and William D. Slider Middle School from El Paso, Texas. The winning teams advanced to the virtual regional competition held Dec. 7-11.
“BEST Robotics is one of the few robotics competitions in the country that takes students through the entire engineering design process,” said STEM Program Manager Clara Welles. “While the theme of each game changes annually, the experience is one that mirrors real-world engineering projects, and this year is no different. The students learn project management, engineering design, marketing, prototype development using digital software, as well as virtual collaboration. Even in a virtual setting, these students have learned skills that are critical for success in the real world.”
This year, “Outbreak: Adjusting to the Threat” challenged middle- and high-school student teams to help slow the spread of a virus. The competition highlighted the real-world issue of disease control, giving participants an opportunity to apply their knowledge and experience to a subject effecting the entire world and to an industry that so desperately needs advancements in technology.
“It is amazing that many of the BEST Robotics competitions have been so applicable to New Mexico’s economy, and the direct experiences of New Mexico students,” Welles said. “Our STEM outreach efforts are important for meeting the workforce needs of our state, and competitions like BEST create a pivotal link in the pipeline.”
NM BEST participants often pursue engineering and other STEM-related fields at universities across the state. The program is offered at no cost to participating schools thanks to financial support provided by Sandia National Labs, Chevron and El Paso Electric Company.