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Door to the future

October 19, 2015

A student from the 2014 Rocky Mountain BEST competition works on his team’s robot. This year’s contest is set for Oct. 24.
A student from the 2014 Rocky Mountain BEST competition works on his team’s robot. This year’s contest is set for Oct. 24.

You’ll never guess what students from 28 local middle and high schools have been working on for the last six weeks. Robots! Yes, you read that right. They’ve been designing, building and testing robots. It’s all part of the sixth annual Rocky Mountain BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) robotics competition. This Saturday, the teams arrive at MSU Denver for the final leg of the contest, pitting their robots against one another to see who will take home the local title.

“It’s a very fun event,” said Jose Lopez, lecturer in MSU Denver’s Department of Aviation and Aerospace Science and executive director of Rocky Mountain BEST. “The students get to play the game and have fun, but also get to experience our campus. They see a door to the future, one that can open for them at MSU Denver.”

The competition, which has grown exponentially over its first six years, is supported exclusively by sponsors and volunteers. MSU Denver donates the facility for the event, and a number of professors and students from aviation and aerospace science, engineering technology, industrial design and marketing also donate their time as mentors, judges and event personnel.

In this year’s contest, teams will play Pay Dirt, a mining game in which robots need to move through a mine and extract materials. The robots maneuver through different levels to extract ores, each of which represents a different point value. The team that completes the most tasks, and thus collects the most points, wins.

Teams pay no money to take part in the competition. At the outset, they receive a kit with all the necessary materials and equipment, and are shown a prototype robot developed by MSU Denver students that serves as an example of one way they might construct their machine. They are asked to document their work in an engineering notebook in the six-week run up to the event. The goal of the program is to introduce students to engineering and scientific inquiry through hands-on experience. Kids learn real-world engineering while participating in an exciting and fun sport-like competition.

“This is an excellent example of MSU Denver’s commitment to promoting careers in STEM fields,” said Lopez. “Programs like this are critical to Colorado’s future because they foster interest in skills needed to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow.”

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