Local robotics competition brings out the BEST

By Makenzie Huber Reporter

SDSU has hosted the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology Robotics Competition on campus for the last four years. The national middle and high school competition, which originated in Texas, is hosted in regions across the nation. Sept. 20, was the kick-off day of the annual competition, allowing participating teams to get started on their robots.

The BEST competition attracts middle and high school students from all across the state and region to the SDSU campus. This year’s competition has a total of 24 teams participating, double the amount of teams that competed in the first SDSU-hosted competition in 2012. The competition is meant to encourage students to participate in future careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Lewis Brown, dean of the Engineering Department spoke to the teams Saturday morning about the benefits of participating in the competition.

“In engineering you use teamwork, strategy and other skills. There is pressure, success and guaranteed failure. But for those who go into STEM careers, this is our world,” Brown said. 

The competition is also an opportunity for students to get to problem solve like an engineer must do in the field. Students have the opportunity to learn hands-on skills, rather than reading out of a book, according to, Kim Prohaska, Hub Director and lecturer at SDSU. 

In last weekend’s kick-off event, the 24 competing teams were introduced to the competition field and this year’s challenge that each robot must complete.

“My favorite part of kick-off day is taking the tarp off of the field,” Prohaska said. “I love to see everybody looking and strategizing about what they’re going to do.”

All teams competing in the robotics competition will have a six-week span to create a robot that will win a position in the Northern Plains Regional Competition hosted at NDSU.

Alex Spies, a senior at Watertown High School, is participating for his fourth year. Spies said he participates in the competition because he dreams of becoming an engineer and believes that the competition gives him an advantage over the competition by getting hands-on experience with robotics.

“This year I’m looking to gain the ability to work well with other students,” Spies said. “I want to gain leadership and organization skills.”

Spies said that what he always looks forward to in the competition is the challenge that comes with the completion and believes it is a valuable experience for those who participate.

New members are also excited for this year’s competition. Jacob Rettig, an eighth grader at Tabor Middle School in South Dakota is participating in his first year at the BEST Competition.

“I was interested in programming,” Rettig said. “[My coach], Susan Rolfes, started a program in robot hardware building in Vermillion and I wanted to participate. We’ve competed in a couple other places, so we came here this year too.”

Rettig  said he believes that the competition will be an exciting experience.

On Nov. 1, teams will participate in Game Day at the Swiftel Center. There they will market their robot and compete on the field.

“It’s a great, fun day,” Prohaska said. “There’s a trade show with exhibits and interviews. The students set up their sales pitch and then compete on the field. We have trophies for the top three in Game and Best [overall] competitions.”

Any students can be involved in the competition, even if they aren’t interested in engineering, Prohaska said.

“Just like a business, the person doing sales isn’t necessarily building the product, but just needs to understand the product,” Prohaska said. “The paper that they have to write that records their work will be judged as well, so a student who is passionate about English and writing and take care of that piece of it.”

College students are recruited each year for volunteer positions, but Prohaska hopes  that students act as messengers for the competition and encourage other schools to participate in next year’s event.