Auburn University Named Headquarters of BEST Robotics Program

Published: Mar 5, 2009 5:59:00 PM
Media Contact: Cheryl Cobb, cobbche@auburn.edu, 334.844.2220

George Blanks, director of K-12 engineering outreach in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, has been appointed executive director of BEST Robotics, Inc. (www.bestinc.org) by its board of directors. The program, which began in Texas in 1982, will now be headquartered at Auburn University.

BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization whose mission is to inspire middle and high school students to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology through participation in a sports-like, science- and engineering-based robotics competition. The goal of the program is to ensure that our nation has the workforce needed to maintain its technological preeminence.

"George Blanks and Mary Lou Ewald [director of outreach for the College of Sciences and Mathematics and member of BEST's board of directors], have been the driving force to develop BEST hubs east of the Mississippi, and I could not be more pleased that their efforts have been rewarded by George's appointment to the executive director position and the relocation of the headquarters to Auburn," says Larry Benefield, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "BEST is a critical component of our K-12 outreach activities. Participation in this activity helps students understand what engineering is all about and provides us with a wonderful opportunity to bring students from around the country to the Auburn campus."

Each September, more than 700 middle and high school teams from 15 states receive kits of standardized parts and are given the details of the year's game. The 2008 game, Just Plane Crazy, challenged them to design a robot to assemble aircraft in a simulated manufacturing plant using Lean Manufacturing and Just-in-Time Inventory strategies.

These teams have six weeks to design and build a robot for head-to-head competition at their local competition hub. A second portion of the competition tested the team's ability to market their creations using presentations, notebooks, displays and t-shirt designs. The top six teams from each of these competitions advanced to one of three regional championships.

One of the hallmarks of BEST Inc. is the pairing of an experienced engineer with each team. These mentors advise the students and faculty advisers. For many students, it is their first face-to-face experience with an engineer.

"They are often surprised to find out that we are normal people who love our jobs, lead interesting lives and earn good livings," explains Dave DeBaets, vice president of the North American Operation Engine Power Products Group for Briggs and Stratton. "This program is hands down one of the best we have seen for helping students understand that careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are exciting and fulfilling."

This fall BEST Inc. will operate 39 competition sites in 16 states, with five sites in Alabama. Nationally, more than 750 schools and 12,000 students will participate in the program. The College of Engineering and the College of Sciences and Mathematics co-direct two competitions, War Eagle BEST, for schools in Central Alabama, and Tennessee Valley BEST, for schools in North Alabama, as well as one of BEST's three regional championships - South's BEST, which takes place each December in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. In 2008, more than 200 Auburn faculty, staff and students volunteered at these annual events.

For more information about BEST, contact Blanks at blankgw@auburn.edu or 334.844.5759.