Underground robot competition

Credit: 
Allisson Geier

On the surface, 16 middle-school students eagerly awaited the start of the Robotics competition taking place on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab. 

“Are you ready?” asked Brianna Mount, research assistant professor of physics at BHSU, The students could see and hear the robots through a live internet connection. With a chorus of “Yes!” from the middle schoolers, the race was on. 

The students work in groups of two and are assigned a mentor from BHSU. Using LEGO Mindstorm kits, the eight teams from Belle Fourche and Spearfish middle schools, designed a robot able to navigate an obstacle course that included tunnels, a bridge and some fairly tight turns. 

“This competition really engages middle-school students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) because it’s hands-on learning,” Mount said. “They construct and program the LEGO robots then get to see the results of their work. It’s educational and fun.” 

It also proved educational for Tonia Robinson and Krystal Nelson, BHSU students who served as mentors for two of the middle-school teams. 

“This is a great project,” said Nelson, a pre-optometrist major. “I was super excited about working with the kids. We can influence them to get involved in STEM fields.”

Robinson, a pre-med major, was impressed with the personal growth she saw. “Their confidence level goes way up as the project progresses,” she said. “They become more sure of themselves and begin to recognize their ideas are valid.”

Before the competition began, Lily Sneesby, a Spearfish Middle School student and granddaughter of Doug Sneesby, a top lander at Sanford Lab, said, “I hope we win!” None of the robots completed the obstacle course, but Lily and her partner Keigan Shayket won because their robot got further than any others.  

Mount sees it as a win for everyone. “It’s a great learning opportunity.”