Competition brings out top high school engineers

Leah Hagland

Fans sported T-shirts supporting their favorite teams and sat in anticipation of all the activities, cheering on team members with great excitement. On the court, hoops were surrounded with team members dunking balls for three points and racing to beat the clock.

This wasn’t about basketball. Oct. 20 was the first annual Jackrabbit Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology Robotics Competition.

BEST Robotics Competitions are an experience for middle through high school students who want to learn more about engineering and science related career fields. BEST has students working with robotics and other science activities.

BEST is a competition in designing and constructing robots. Students are given kits to use in building their robot. Kits include materials such as Velcro, bicycle brakes, PVC pipe, paper clips, piano wire, rubber bands and duct tape. These kits were provided by SDSU.

“It’s completely free for the schools,” said Kim Prohaska, director of the Jackrabbit BEST program. Prohaska is an instructor of introductory programming courses in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at SDSU. She has been instrumental in making SDSU a “hub” location for BEST competitions.

Once given kits from the “hub”, students must build a robot that can complete different tasks, such as climbing a pole and placing plastic balls in a container. Each of these tasks comes with a corresponding point value, and teams have three minutes to perform as many tasks as possible.

“It was like a sports event,” said Prohaska, “there was a little bit of suspense in it.”

The suspense made the day exciting. Parents and family members were anxious as they watched the time clock. There was a great deal of support from the stands. Parents seemed very thankful for this unique learning opportunity.

“The kids have had a great time with this,” commented Mary Tirrel, a mother from Mitchell Christian.

Tirrel appreciated variety in the BEST program. If students did not enjoy working on the robot, they could still be involved through photography, advertising, and additional opportunities.

Other parents were also happy to see some great learning experiences through BEST.

“[Students] have to get together and problem solve,” commented Vicki Thompson, another parent from Mitchell Christian.

Overall, seven teams competed on Saturday, including the Brookings High School. These students were able to learn more about the engineering career field.

“I’ve always wanted to be an engineer,” said Linjie, a student at Brookings. BEST offered her many learning experiences, such as writing her team’s research paper.

Director Prohaska especially likes BEST because it does give students a better feel for what an engineer is.

“There’s this fuzzy picture of…what an engineer does,” she commented. “It’s nice for students to get an idea about what engineering is.”

The competition certainly presented many opportunities for students who participated.

“Seeing everybody and all the different ideas…was pretty cool,” commented Mattiah, a student from Bonesteel-Fairfax, SD.

Meeting people and learning more about technology were only a few aspects of BEST. Students were able to engage in numerous activities, all of which cost money. Overall, the BEST competition cost around $45,000 to $50,000 to put on. It was made possible through generous donations from local businesses.

Prohaska hopes to expand the competition next year. She encourages SDSU students to speak with their high school science teachers or principles in an effort to increase awareness of BEST. Prohaska also encourages people to email her with any questions. She can be reached at [email protected].


First place BEST award is the highest achievement. It is based on the scores in every category, including the marketing plan, team exhibit and interview, and spirit and sportsmanship. There is also a Robotics only category in which teams only compete for the best robot. First place BEST went to Watertown High School (who also won second place Robotics). Second BEST was Mitchell Christian and third BEST went to FOCHES (Fellowship of Christian Home Educated Students – Brookings Area). The JCC School (Jackson County Central from Jackson, MN) won first place in the overall Robotics competition, and Sunshine Bible Academy from Miller, SD won third with their robot. Each of these teams will advance to the Bison BEST on December 6th – 8th. The Bison BEST is a regional competition for winners at the individual hub locations.