By Chris Kieffer
Among the latest efforts to help Mississippi produce more engineers is a high school robotics competition with the pizazz of a football game.
Twenty-two teams participated in the annual Mississippi BEST Robotics Competition, held last weekend at Starkville High School in conjunction with Mississippi State University’s Bagley College of Engineering. As students guided their robots, they were encouraged by bands, cheerleaders and the sound of sports jams being played through the sound system.
“It was like a sporting event for robotics,” said Tupelo High School engineering instructor Amanda Gamble-Wood, who coached the THS team. “I’ve never seen that kind of excitement about robotics before.”
Two Lee County high schools – Tupelo and Saltillo – participated for the first time this year. Other Northeast Mississippi competitors included Corinth High, Starkville Academy, Starkville High, Starkville Christian Home Educators and Starkville Christian School.
“It was something to see how much fun a kid could have at a robot competition,” said Saltillo High STEM teacher Jason Pannell, who coached the school’s team.
Six weeks before the competition, teams traveled to MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory to collect the materials they would use to build their robots. They worked during class, after school and on weekends to complete their work.
“You learn so much you can’t learn in the classroom,” said THS junior Austin Richey.
Tupelo finished third overall, which includes not only the robotics competition, but also their notebook, presentation and marketing booth. THS was seventh in the robotics category.
Saltillo High School only competed in the robotics competition and placed fifth in it.
Starkville High School won the competition, and SCHE was second. Corinth High School was recognized with the “Most Robust” prize.
“You go to math and science classes and wonder, ‘When am I going to use that?’ but this puts it into perspective,” said Saltillo High School freshman Nathan Jones.
Both schools received the support of mentors from Cooper Tire and Hunter Douglas, although their processes were student led. Saltillo High School competed through its Technology Student Association, and THS did so through its Engineering 2, Digital Media Technology and Career Pathway Experience classes.