Engineering competition displays student creativity
Anyone who wandered into G. Rollie White November 15 might suspect they had stumbled into an unscheduled sporting event. It couldn't be an Aggie basketball game since A&M students have never been that excited about basketball. No, the shrieks, the crowded stands and the painted butcher paper draped around the coliseum were more reminiscent of a high school game than any recent college event.

Indeed, the stands were filled with high school students who traveled from around the state for this day-long event. Their enthusiasm was so thick it poured into the foyer, intoxicating any innocent bystanders. Students blew air horns, painted their faces and shouted cheers in support of their teams competing below.

Despite all the clues, this was not a basketball game or any athletic event, but rather an engineering competition.

The competition is a great program to motivate high school students, build their creativity and help them learn.

The Texas Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (Texas BEST) Robotics Competition pits teams from different high schools against each other as their remote controlled robots try to achieve a specific goal. Teams build their robots from a kit of parts to meet a certain objective. The robots compete at regional competitions, then the winners attend the state competition held on the A&M campus.

This year's contest called for teams to design a robot which could pick up sticks (representing dangerous dynamite), carry them up a ramp and drop them in a bucket. The team whose bucket weighed the most at the end of two minutes won the match.

The contest allowed for plenty of creativity. A wide variety of robots competed. Some were mechanical and utilitarian, but most were loudly decorated. One show-stealer dubbed "Defusor" had been embellished with cartoon eyes, and waved at the audience with his hinged "mouth" after a victorious match. Each robot was unique, as was the strategy each school used to try to win. While some competitors simply tried to get the most weight into their bucket, others tried to block the opposing robot from reaching its goal or attempted to lift their opponent's bucket out of reach.

Part pep rally and part UIL meet, the event was both exciting and encouraging to watch.

Spectators could not help but be excited by the charged atmosphere as pairs of students controlled their robots in head-to-head duels. Yet it was also encouraging and refreshing to see young people who had investing themselves in such a positive undertaking.

Students develop teamworking and problem-solving skills, design experience, engineering knowledge and have plenty of fun.

Too often students are bored by school. Standardized tests, crowded classes and stretched budgets make it difficult for students to emerge from the school system still excited about learning. The BEST competition, however, encourages creative thinking and shows students a practical application for their education.

This competition presents students with a wonderful learning opportunity, and more programs like this would benefit young people.

The Texas BEST program is continuing to expand throughout the state, and instructors are trying to create similar competitions in other states. Creative teaching tools like this not only help students to learn, but give them more lasting and positive memories. Sure, competition was fierce and a few students were disappointed with the results, but none of the contestants seemed to regret the trip they made or the work they put in to their project.

Dave Johnston is a senior mathematics major.