UWF hosts STEM activities for community students

University of West Florida | news@uwf.edu

The University of West Florida (UWF) has hosted the Emerald Coast Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics competition for the past five years, and is the only institution in the state to host the event each year. About 20 middle- and high-school teams face off every year in a competition involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills.

The specific objective of the competition varies from year to year, each with a real-world theme. In 2011, the teams were tasked to design and build a robot to safely handle mock bugs and/or food and carefully transport them from their current location to one of three containment areas. In 2010, “Total Recall” was a chance for the students to direct their robots through a series of tasks that can be found on a real-world production line, including processing, sorting and packaging various “goods.”

Beyond the robotics element, teams are also judged on other elements.

“The teams also do a project engineering notebook and marketing presentation,” said Bill Weber, former BEST competition director for UWF. “They are also judged on best spirit and sportsmanship, and they participate in a team exhibit and interview. The competition goes beyond a simple robot competition; it also introduces the team members to other skills that successful engineers and technologists will need in an industrial environment.”

The competitions are broken down like a traditional sports competition, with semifinal and final rounds deciding the ultimate winner. Each year, the top winners proceed to a regional competition in Auburn.

The competition affords a unique opportunity to the university, the students competing and the community. While UWF hosts and coordinates the event, faculty and students from the School of Science and Engineering help mentor the participants. The community is invited to partake in and cheer at the sports-like competition. Generally, about 1,500 community members will attend.

“UWF has made a great commitment to host these outreach activities,” said Michelle Lockhart, 2011 competition director. “A lot of the kids have never been to a university, and this is a great chance for them to become acclimated. As a result, we have quite a few BEST alums enrolled in our engineering, physics and computer science programs.”

BEST Robotics is not the only STEM event that UWF hosts. On Feb. 4, UWF also hosted the Florida Science Olympiad. Like an academic track meet, the Olympiad consists of a series of 23 team events in each division. Each year, a portion of the events are rotated to reflect the ever-changing nature of genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering and technology. As a result, students are challenged to demonstrate knowledge in the latest STEM disciplines.

UWF is committed to the region it serves, affording opportunity and access to higher education for anyone working toward a better future. By providing cutting edge resources for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, the university is remaining relevant and useful in today’s ever-changing learning environment.

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