Photo courtesy of Scottie Wilson.
The Spain Park BEST Robotics team took home several first place awards in the first round of competition.
If movies about high school are to be believed, robotics is for nerdy, quiet kids. At Spain Park High School, however, the Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics team is defying those stereotypes.
“It’s definitely brought a variety of different types of people together,” said Alyssa Gaston, overall CEO for the SPHS BEST Robotics team. The group includes basketball players, football players, band members, English lovers and engineering enthusiasts — students Gaston said probably would not interact as much otherwise.
“[I appreciate] just the wide spread or the big spectrum of things that we’re doing in this competition allows kids from different backgrounds and interests to get involved,” said team sponsor and SPHS teacher Scottie Wilson, adding that just as the team brings together students from different passions and activities, it brings together multiple subjects.
“It’s fantastic because they get to see the big picture,” Wilson said. “It’s cross-curricular. So many times people think it’s just math, or it’s just building.”
On the contrary, the robotics projects BEST teams take on include math, science, history, business and writing skills. The team is even divided between three CEOs — one managing the overall plan, one focusing on robot construction and one focusing on overall presentation of the business.
“The whole goal of BEST is not just building a robot. It’s presenting a product to a company,” said Brooke Gilliam, CEO for the business side of the team. “William [Zhao] focuses more on everything robot, and I’m table display and information.”
Each year’s competition also focuses on a topic that influences the world. This year’s theme was “Bet the Farm,” where students had to research hydroponics, the history of farming in America and build a robot to complete “farming” activities such as shucking corn — removing yellow paint rollers from spikes — and gathering tomatoes — collecting red wiffleballs.
At the first level of competition in October, Spain Park’s team received first place in several categories, including BEST award, engineering notebook, team exhibit and interview, engineering and marketing presentation, Simulink design and programming and for pep band. The team also received the Team of Distinction award and second place for robot performance.
Students take on a variety of tasks during the day of competition, ranging from controlling the robot to guiding the team controlling the robot to presenting. There is also a large spirit section, where attendees cheer for their team’s robot.
“I would have never thought that there would be a student section at a robotics competition, but I went last year, and we had so much fun just cheering on a robot, of all things,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam, Gaston and Zhao got involved with the robotics team at different times and for different reasons, but all three agreed that they have learned lessons that will help after they graduate. They are seniors at SPHS, and Gilliam said the team has helped her prepare for majoring in engineering in college.
“I’ve learned that I have to be a lot more careful and have to plan, and I think when I start doing engineering projects in college, I’ll be a lot more prepared because I know how to tackle them,” she said.
For Zhao, who first joined a BEST Robotics team in sixth grade, there is also practical knowledge involved in these projects.
“It’s a lot of practical engineering, tactics you can learn and use on a daily basis to build the robot,” he said. “It’s also teamwork, somewhat of an actual construction team.”
Because all three CEOs of the team will graduate this spring, they said a goal has been to continue encouraging underclassmen to get involved. That way, the team remains strong.
“This year, I would say there is a lot of underclassman involvement,” Gilliam said. “We’ve always had some underclassman involvement, but this year we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores and juniors coming out to practices and helping.”