Blazer BEST kicks off in Birmingham

UAB engineering professor Dr. Hassan Moore speaks with students in front of the covered Blazer BEST challenge game board, revealed during the Aug. 21 kickoff event. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

UAB engineering professor Dr. Hassan Moore speaks with students in front of the covered Blazer BEST challenge game board, revealed during the Aug. 21 kickoff event. (Reporter Photo / Molly Davidson)

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM—Hundreds of students from middle schools and high schools across Shelby and Jefferson counties gathered at University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Bartow Arena for the Blazer Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology competition kickoff and challenge reveal on Aug. 21.

Blazer BEST is a six week program sponsored by UAB’s engineering department that “uses robotics to motivate education,” program coordinator and UAB engineering professor Dr. Hassan Moore said.

Students are given six weeks to design and construct a robot to navigate a game board and complete a challenge. This year’s challenge is called “Blade Runner,” students must construct robots to “build and construct windmills” using items located on the 24-foot by 24-foot game board, Moore explained.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive way to get these guys to engage in science, technology engineering and mathematics, and that’s really what were after,” Moore said. “It’s goal driven engineering and goal driven science.”

However, robotics is just part of the Blazer BEST competition. In addition to building a successful robot, teams must also keep an engineering notebook, come up with a business plan and create a marketing campaign for their robot, including team t-shirts, an oral presentation and a display booth.

“There really is a place for everybody to be part of this competition,” UAB Provost Dr. Linda Lucas said.

Twenty-five teams are participating in this year’s Blazer BEST program, an “all-time record for participation,” Lucas said.

“The main thing we want to focus on is not the robot, it’s the marketing and design,” Pelham High School junior Christian Goecke said.

This is the first year PHS will field a Blazer BEST team, and 12 students have already signed up to participate, faculty coach Timo Cobb said. In addition to being fun, Cobb said the program also helps students become “college ready and career ready.”

“It’s all them. They’re coming up with the marketing, they’re coming up with the design,” Cobb said. “This is going to be a great opportunity for our kids… because it’s real life. This is the sort of thing they’re looking for in an application, you’ve done a real job, a real plan.”

Helena Middle School’s team will compete for a second year in the Blazer BEST competition.

“They’re really excited,” faculty coach Christine Hoffman said of the 22 seventh and eighth students on this year’s HMS team. “Everybody is going to be integrated into all aspects (of the competition) this year.”

“We got a taste of it (last year) and had to come back,” HMS faculty coach Lindsey Minton added.

After the Aug. 21 kickoff and reveal day, teams have six weeks to prepare for the Oct. 4 area competition.

“This is going to be a great six weeks for you,” Lucas said. “This six weeks is going to go by really, really quick.”