B.E.S.T. competition impacts future STEM prospects



Middle and high school students in the state of Alabama assembled in the Acadome to learn the rules for the competition.

Micah Sanders, Editor-In-Chief

Competing for the title of B.E.S.T. (Boosting Engineering, Science & Technology) Robotic Competition Champion, numerous middle schools and high schools around the state of Alabama prepare for the big competition on Nov. 6  in the Montgomery Multiplex. 

Alabama State University hosted its annual competition kick-off in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on Sept. 9. The competition provides students with a real-world problem, challenging them to develop a robotic solution, which helps stimulate and enhance their use of science and engineering skills.

This year’s event, ‘Demo-Daze,’ requires students to build a robot that can demolish an object and other various tasks. Students are allowed to make their robots autonomously or remote-controlled, but the robot must be able to perform the tasks correctly in order to advance to the regional competition. 

“The concept of ‘Demo-Daze’ came from the [Florida Champlain Towers South] collapsing,” said Jones.  “When that building collapsed, and the debris was everywhere, that caused a huge problem. So, with this competition, we want our students to be able to clean up areas securely so that these robots can eventually be used to help with real-world problems such as what happened in Florida.” 

Teams can consist of over 50 people, but only two people from each team are allowed on the field the day of the competition. 

During the annual competition kick-off, the teams received several technological pieces and construction pieces, including motors, a machine brain, plywood, PVC pipes, wooden dials and metal rods, free of charge.

After receiving the materials needed to make their robot, teams have approximately eight weeks to create the best robot possible. Practice day for the teams will be held Oct. 23 at Eastdale Mall to allow them to test-run their robots and receive assistance if needed. 

“A lot of people came. It was a nice turn-out,” said Cadavious Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and the director of the B.E.S.T. Robotics Competition in Montgomery. “We were still able to follow the COVID-19 protocols of remaining six feet apart and wearing masks, but it was amazing to see all of those students.” 

On competition day, the event will be point-based with several areas that will be judged, from the style of the robot to the engineering notebook to the marketing. 

“Not only will the competition consist of students interested in engineering, but students who love to market things or create graphic designs will be a part of the competition,” Jones said. “There will be numerous booths around the event where students will be marketing their robot, creating visually appealing graphics, and even websites conveying why their robot is the best.” 

Along with multiple judging criteria, there will also be multicategories and awards in which a team can enter. 

The B.E.S.T. Award encompasses the best engineering, design, and appeal of the robots created, and whoever is to receive this award will most likely move onto the next round, according to Jones.

The Most Robust Award highlights those who have created a very sturdy and elegant robot. The award can be strictly given based on looks, not on points. 

The Spirit Award awards those students who showcase good sportsmanship and are the most confident and energetic during the competition. This award allows for the recognition of those beginner engineers who have yet to fully get into their passion or craft. 

“Both the Spirit Award and Most Robust Award are side awards that aren’t based on points,” said Jones. “If you clap for everyone, scream the loudest, and have that energetic personality, then you can win the Spirit Award. For the Most Robust Award, we are just looking for those robots that are visually and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.” 

Hoping to incorporate more S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts, and Mathematics) rather than S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related events, Jones believes this competition will allow those prospective students who are interested in the arts to thrive. 

“I mean, we always hear about STEM and why it’s important,” Jones said. “But many people don’t know about STEAM with an A, and why that’s also important to have. Of course, I believe that STEM is important, and I’m biased since I am a mathematics professor, but incorporating the Arts to be a part of the acronym is very much needed because a STEAM education promotes creativity and critical thinking.”

The 2021 B.E.S.T. Robotics competition teams consist of  Billingsley High School,

Davidson High School, East Alabama, Eastwood/Cornerstone Schools, Glenwood School, Bullock County High, Elmore County High School, Jefferson Davis High School, Johnnie R. Carr Middle School, Saraland Middle School, Saraland High School, Thompson High School, Stanhope Elmore High School, McKee Middle/Lanier High School, Jordan Vocational High School College and Career Academy, The Montgomery Academy, and Wetumpka High School.

Costing $1,000 for tech equipment, not including the building materials, per competition team, Jones said that competitions like these are really important and impactful for those students and communities that are financially burdened but are interested in S.T.E.A.M., but just do not have the resources. 

“I think it’s super important to have robotic competitions like these because it motivates our students to challenge themselves intellectually and allows them to congregate with other like-minded students,” Jones said. “I grew up in a poor community myself, and I, fortunately, was able to get out of that and make my career in what I love doing. So that’s why events like these let students practice their passion at no financial burden to them.” 

The annual B.E.S.T. Robotic Competition is created by The NW Alabama BEST Hub. The NW Alabama BEST Hub is a partnership between the Shoals Chamber of Commerce and Northwest-Shoals Community College.

For the students, faculty, and staff interested in attending or volunteering at the competition on Nov. 6, Jones welcomes them with open arms.

“We would love to have interested faculty, staff, and/or students participate in judging various events or serve as volunteers for the event.”