SOE Launches Crowdfunding Effort to Support Future of Blazer BEST
Blazer BEST is back and bigger than ever.
With a record 32 teams participating in this year’s event, the School of Engineering is increasing its outreach potential exponentially by exposing hundreds of additional middle and high school students to fundamentals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
To help cover the cost of that expansion and to ensure the future successful growth of Blazer BEST, the school is launching a crowdfunding campaign that will attempt to raise $10,000 to cover the cost of things like facility and equipment rental, game kits, and, perhaps most significant, the cost of a second playing field.
“The only way we could expand participation to 32 teams was to create a second playing field so that we can have multiple teams competing at once,” says Blazer BEST co-director Lyn Lewis. That increase alone is enough to nearly double the expense of last year’s event—and that’s before you add the cost of eight additional supply kits teams will use to build their robots.
But for organizers who have experienced BEST in the past, the cost of the event is not equal to its true value.
“Blazer BEST has always been free to the participants, and we have kept it that way because we want to encourage as many students to take part in this event as possible,” says SOE Dean Iwan Alexander, Ph.D. “This competition helps develop STEM skillsets, but we also see examples of teamwork and sportsmanship each year that are nothing short of inspirational.”
The Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) welcomed 37 new students to the Construction Engineering Management (CEM) Master of Engineering (MEng) program with an intensive on campus “Boot Camp”. The August 21st and 22nd orientation marks the official start of a track of study in which students will take courses online over the next 18 months to earn (MEng) degree. This is the fifteenth boot camp hosted by CEM since the online program was implemented in 2009.
“We bring online students to UAB to physically meet their peers and to develop community,” says CEM Director Bill Hitchcock, Ph.D. “The overwhelming feedback from the attendees time and time again is that the boot camp experience is tremendously powerful at the personal level and truly results in an engaged group of peers. Of course that is why we do it.”
Recently, the School of Engineering partnered with alumni who are employed at Southern Company Services, Alabama Power and Southern Nuclear on a first-of-its kind crowdfunding experiment in which current employees raised money for future co-op participants and interns.
One month later, the experiment ended as a resounding success story. In just 30 days, UAB’s engineering alumni contributed more than $4,200 toward the scholarship effort. With potential matching funds from the company still to come, the fund is expected to be nearly triple the initial goal of $3,000.
“The School of Engineering has a long history with Southern Company,” says Leann Neal, director of alumni affairs for the School of Engineering. “The success of this effort says a lot about our graduates and the pride they feel in both their school and their company. We hope this will be the first step toward similar collaborations in the future.”
Over the past year, UAB has had some success with a variety of crowdfunding initiatives. This is the first time, however, that an effort has focused on a specific group of donors, creating a “giving circle” that benefits both organizations. “We are very excited about the success of this project specifically because we tend to think about mass-appeal when considering the viability of a potential crowdfunding project,” says UAB Senior Director of Annual Giving Randy Kinder. “However, in this case the goal was to bring together a core group of like-minded alumni and enable them to make a collective impact. And, that is exactly what they did.”
Dozens of alumni contributed toward the total of $4,215, with gifts ranging from $25 to $250. Southern Company employees (excluding Alabama Power) who contributed must submit requests for the company to match their individual contributions.
For many biomedical engineering students, the pursuit of a graduate degree is an investment in the future—a valuable training ground for tomorrow’s employment opportunities.
But for one unique UAB student, opportunity called sooner than expected.
Lindsay Miller chose UAB because of the multi-faceted experience she could get through biomedical engineering graduate program and the Certificate in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship program in the Collat School of Business. Unlike other students, however, Miller’s education isn’t preparation for some future payoff. She actually completed her education as part of a new career at Birmingham-based Southern Research, where she landed a full-time job that paid her to conduct thesis-related research, which she was able to continue at Southern Research after graduation.