Robotics program kicks off at TSTC

The local extension of TSTC (Texas State Technical College) West Texas has been getting ready for its debut of the BEST robotics program on its campus which began on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.The first of three events for the Big Country BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) competition was the BEST Kickoff which started Saturday at 1 p.m. Participants were introduced to the game where rules were reviewed and a demonstration was provided before entry kits were distributed to each school.Three area schools are involved in BEST — Sweetwater, Roscoe and Highland. Other districts within the Big Country competition hub include Abilene Cooper, ATEMS (Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math and Science) in Abilene, Clyde, Colorado City, Comanche, Eastland, Gustine, Lueders-Avoca, Rising Star and Snyder.The BEST competition was founded in 1993 in Texas by two engineers from Texas Instruments, Ted Mahler and Steve Marum, with 14 schools and 221 students. Eighteen years later, the program has grown with competitions held in 15 states in over 850 schools with over 12,500 students involved. The program strives to engage, excite and inspire students to pursue careers in the three aspects highlighted in the competition — engineering, science and technology. Students are provided with real-world engineering experience and prepared to be technologically literate. In addition, participants glean a variety of leadership, project management, teamwork and organizational skills while building confidence and competence within the fields. The program has two divisions: robotics and the BEST award. In Robotics, the team from the school must also enter a Project Engineering Notebook, which describes the Engineering Design Process and how it was used in designing the robot.The BEST Award is the top achievement--which includes an oral presentation, educational exhibit, spirit and sportsmanship as well as robot performance. With marketing making up 25% of the total score and the exhibit also consisting of 25%, half of the entire score goes beyond the robotics aspect.After watching a presentation on BEST, TSTC West Texas Vice President of Student Learning Will Thompson and President Gail Lawrence wanted the college to participate in the program. The Big Country BEST Hub Steering Committee is made up of Beverly Campbell, Joni Coons, Austin Mullins, Bob Peterson, Keith Plantier and the group's Director, Terry Blankenship. Mentors include Richard Gale from the Texas Tech University College of Engineering and Becky Musil from TSTC Waco. Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene is also partnering with TSTC and BEST by providing marketing students to assist and mentor teams.Blankenship believes that BEST provides great job preparation for the students who take part in the competition but also identifies students who might be suitable for engineering school. The competition also provides advantages for local industries by training them for the workforce and several local organizations have become donors for the cause.Along with the Sweetwater TSTC campus, Ludlum Measurements is the major donor for BEST. Other top donors include the Dodge Jones Foundation, the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce, Tenaska and the local Rotary Club chapter.And for those who can help with their resources and talents, Blankenship noted that teams are looking for mentors within their communities to teach safety procedures or someone with a background in engineering. To be a mentor, each participating school should be contacted.For more information on BEST, contact Blankenship at 235-7446 or