Blazer BEST 2014 kicked off Thursday night to an enthusiastic crowd of roughly 400 local high school and middle school students. The students represent 25 teams who will work over the next six weeks to design and build robots to complete specific tasks that were unveiled for the first time at the kick-off.
"It's great to see this level of excitement for an event promoting STEM disciplines, which are science, technology, engineering and math," said Hassan Moore, Ph.D., co-director of the event. "We all get enthusiastic about football, but you don't see international corporations moving to our state because we're good at football. If we can build that same level of excitement around STEM disciplines, you'll see a positive change in the kinds of jobs we can attract to our area."
On Thursday, participants received information about this year's challenge as well as some of the the materials and information they will need to complete their tasks. But by no means is the process completely laid out for them. "Ever year I'm surprised by some of the ideas the students come up with," said Moore. "I've got a Ph.D. in physics, but some of these middle school students, will figure out ways to solve the problems that I never would have considered. If we just give them some basic parameters, it's amazing what they can come up with."
Blazer BEST is a local hub of BEST (“Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology”) Robotics, Inc.—a non-profit, volunteer-run national organization whose mission is to inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through participation in a sports-like, science- and engineering-based robotics competition.
UAB is one of dozens of BEST sites across the nation and one of 11 hubs in Alabama. Now in its seventh year at UAB, BEST has proven to be an effective way to interest students not only in engineering, but in UAB as well. "When I started at UAB, we didn't really have any connections or inroads with some of the larger area high schools, such as Spain Park," Moore said. "Since then, we've had several students from Spain Park who participated in BEST and later enrolled in the School of Engineering. In fact, some of them are now student volunteers helping with this year's event."