BEST Robotics Competition draws more than 600 students

Students from middle and high schools throughout New Mexico and the surrounding region competed Saturday with robots they designed and created themselves in the annual BEST Robotics Competition, hosted by New Mexico State University.


Through BEST, which stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology, students encounter the same challenges and breakthroughs as industry engineering teams, according to the competition's website. The BEST mission is to inspire participating students to pursue careers in the fields of engineering, technology, science, and math.


The College of Engineering at NMSU has, for 11 years, partnered with and hosted the New Mexico BEST Robotics Competition to encourage young students to pursue higher education in these areas. This year more than 600 students gathered at NMSU's James B. Delamater Activity Center to compete in the annual competition, said Patricia A. Sullivan, assistant dean of the university's College of Engineering.


Between five and 60 students comprised teams which hailed from 29 middle and high schools throughout New Mexico, El Paso and Arizona. About 24 teams competed in last year's BEST Robotics contest. It is the only robotics program in the state where there is no cost to the schools for students to participate, Sullivan explained


"There are more teams here this year and the teams are made up of even more students," Sullivan said. "There are several new and returning

schools represented, including homeschooling groups. The aim is to promote fields of study like engineering and give young students an opportunity to explore these in a fun way."


The Activity Center's gymnasium was filled with supportive parents and fans, cheering on their favorite team by sporting matching T-shirts, and waiving posters and other props.


"They have cheerleaders and fan clubs and one school even brought their band," Sullivan said with a smile. "The students all get really excited for the competition. The kids just love it. It's like watching a sporting event with all the cheering and anticipation."


This year's competition theme was Warp XX and was inspired by the commercialization of space travel. Students were required to construct a prototype robot designed to transport cargo and equipment on a space elevator tower. To keep the station operational, each team's robot was required to perform a variety of tasks during the three-minute matches, including installing solar panels, transporting light cargo balls, retrieving a clear fuel bottle, and triggering a summit indicator flag.


About 12 students from Picacho Middle School competed Saturday for the first time.


"It was a lot of hard work, but it was so much fun," said Katie Heitman, 11, a sixth-grade student at Picacho. "We tested our robot a week before and it didn't work, so we had to remake it in only a week."


Heitman and teammate Zachary Chadwick, 12, also in sixth grade at Picacho, worked on the robot's mechanical arm and were happy to see that it functioned properly on Saturday.


"It was so cool to see the arm go up," Chadwick said with a wide smile. "We learned a lot and I really liked building the robot."


"I think we're definitely more competitive now going into next year's competition," Heitman added. "We know what to expect now."


Seasoned competitors from Hatch Valley High School, which has sent teams to the annual contest for seven years, said even they were faced with new challenges. In previous years, robots were required to perform tasks on the ground. But with the theme of this year's BEST contest incorporating a space elevator, "Our robot had to be able lift up cargo for the first time," said Gladys Mejia, 17, a senior at Hatch Valley.


"That was a new element that we hadn't had to confront before," said Devon Garland, 14, a freshman at Hatch Valley. "There seemed to be double the work this year and double the stresses."


The Hatch students were happy to take on the new challenge, Garland said with a smile.


"We spent every moment we possible could working on our robot. We worked until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. every day after school for the entire six weeks we were given to design and build the robot," he said.


The team of about 30 split into groups to tackle various aspects of the project, including marketing, finance and creating an intricate display for the oral presentation. The hard work paid off when, by Saturday afternoon, they were in the competition's semifinals.


"We've received rave reviews of our oral presentation and notebook," Garland said. "I'm very proud of what we've accomplished. I think we did a fantastic job."


"We've been able to advance to Dallas for the regional competition the last two years, so we're hoping to be able to do that again this year," said Mejia.

Each year, teams are issued identical kits of parts to construct a robot and guidelines on tasks that each robot should be able to complete. Sponsors like El Paso Electric and Boeing made it possible for BEST to supply teams with the kits at no cost to schools.


"Teams have six weeks to design, build, and test the robot that they hope will outperform the competitors," Sullivan said. Teams were given the opportunity to test the prototype robots they designed at the Mesilla Valley Mall last week.

Teams were judged not only on their robot's ability to perform on the game field, but also on their engineering notebook, marketing presentation, website, interviews with judges, sportsmanship and spirit.


"There are a variety of ways for students to get involved in the competition beyond engineering," Sullivan explained. "There are opportunities for everyone to get involved in areas like marketing, finance, writing, and more. Collaboration is what this industry is all about."


Several NMSU students studying mechanical, electrical, industrial and civil engineering served as mentors to participants in this year's competition and even worked to construct its game field, Sullivan said. More than 120 volunteer NMSU students and faculty, along with engineers from throughout the community, helped to make the event a reality and served as judges during the competition.


"These kids are really smart and many of them know a lot about engineering already," said Justin Cross, 21, a senior studying mechanical engineering at NMSU.


Cross and other NMSU engineering students worked with students from area schools, corresponded via e-mail with out-of-town teams, and assisted with last-minute preparations for Saturday's contest during last week's test-run at the Mesilla Valley Mall.


"Even the younger students who were just getting started and becoming interested in engineering were extremely attentive and really interested in learning from us," said Ryan Keyser, 22, who is also a senior in NMSU's mechanical engineering program. "Some teams had to completely rebuild their robots in a week's time (following last week's test run), but they got the job done and got the robots to work and they were so excited to see their robot do what it was designed to."


For more information on BEST, visit best.eng.auburn.edu.


source: http://www.lcsun-news.com/las_cruces-news/ci_21819906/best-robotics-competition-draws-more-than-600-students 


Computer-based program aims to boost math grades at UNM

Math 120 — usually the first foray students make into college math at the University of New Mexico — has a failure rate of at least 50 percent.
This means students not only have to repeat the class, which sets them back, but it can also cause them to drop out, President Bob Frank said.
Frank said he hopes a new and innovative program that will revamp the way math is taught at UNM will increase the student pass rate while helping to increase the school’s below-average third semester retention rate, which is about 74.1 percent, and its six-year graduation rate, which is 45 percent.
“The ultimate goal is to have our students succeed, and we know that this is a stumbling block for many students, because they’re not well-prepared in math,” Frank said.
The Math Learning Lab, which will launch as a pilot program this fall and be fully in place in January 2013, will replace lectures with a computer lab in which students learn at their own pace, with backing from teachers and tutors.
The course is separated into three sections, each of which must be “mastered” before moving on to the next, said dean of arts and sciences Mark Peceny.
For some students, that can be two weeks, but for others, it could be two months, Peceny said.
No matter — the point is for students to finish the course successfully.
“(Students) will move more swiftly through their (degree) programs. They’ll be more likely to graduate within six years. And they’ll be more likely to get wonderful jobs in the New Mexico economy,” Peceny said.
UNM’s Math Learning Lab, also known as MaLL, is modeled after the Math Emporium, a program that’s proven successful at Virginia Tech, and, in its one year so far, at Kent State University, where Frank was provost before becoming UNM president.
The arts and sciences department, under which mathematics falls, had already been studying the Math Emporium and its success rate when Frank took on the presidency, but he was essential in pushing the project forward, Peceny said.
Frank was instrumental in developing the Math Emporium at Kent State, which he said so far has seen a significant drop in failure rates.
About 250 students will take part in the UNM pilot program this upcoming semester. Once it’s launched fully, some 2,500 students annually will participate, Peceny said.
The lab will be located in the Centennial Science & Engineering Library, and renovations, along with new computers and software, will cost UNM about $1 million, Peceny said. The money will come from the Provost’s Office and the arts and sciences department.
“I know that the people of the state and the parents of our students and our students would very much like to see us do everything in our power to increase the number of students that actually graduate from this university, and increase the pace at which they graduate,” Peceny said. “And our intention, (our) focus on investing these kinds of resources in a new model of math instruction, is one of the most important things we can do as a university to accomplish these important goals.”


LANL Foundation grants $2.1M to schools


 The Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation has announced $2.1 million in grants to public schools in seven Northern New Mexico counties to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The educational effort, known as STEM, promotes teacher training, curriculum development, technology in the classroom and support to students to prepare them for science- and math-related careers. 
The Foundation Educational Enrichment grants are awarded to school districts based on the percentage of laboratory and lab contractor employees living within the school districts in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Los Alamos, Taos, San Miguel, Sandoval and Mora counties. Since 1998, the LANL Foundation has given more than $29 million to school districts to improve education. 

The 2012 grants include: 

Española Public Schools: $863,605 to improve technology, provide science kits to students districtwide, help math teachers with professional development, and to employ an instructional technologist and a science literacy coach. 

Santa Fe Public Schools: $705,590 to expand a science-based teaching system to Agua Fría, Kearny and Nava elementary schools. The district will be able to increase the number of students in its Science Based Inquiry Initiative to 3,200 and the number of science-trained teachers to 130, and support a science learning coordinator for each school. 

Pojoaque Valley Schools: $243,151 to start digital distance learning. Two high school classrooms will be remodeled to interact with schools throughout the U.S. Pojoaque also will continue its Inquiry Based Science Program in grades 1-8. 

Jemez Valley Public Schools: $81,910 to hire a part-time systems manager to oversee technology for teaching and assessing in grades K-12, and to fund employee training and STEM supplies. The grant is expected to benefit 350 students, 34 teachers and four administrators. 

Rio Rancho Public Schools: $66,431 to provide science-fair skills for in grades 6-12 through the district's program. Rio Rancho also will get additional science kits. 

Mesa Vista Consolidated Schools: $36,763 for science kits for K-6 students at Ojo Caliente and El Rito elementary schools and to hire a science learning coordinator. 

Peñasco Independent Schools: $22,574 to use for a science tutor for 219 students and 13 teachers in grades K-6. 

Jemez Mountain Schools: $22,574 to begin a digital program that provides students laptops instead of textbooks, and for teachers and parents to be able to track student performance online. 

Taos Municipal School District: $18,704 for the Taos Cyber Magnet School, which teaches 25 at-risk students. 

Bernalillo Public Schools: $16,349 to develop minority girls' science and math skills in grades 7-8 under a program called STEM Sisters, and $3,000 for an elementary robotics program to develop science skills. 

Chama Valley Independent School District: $5,805 to expand online courses. 

Las Vegas City Schools: $5,160 to study bio-science. 

West Las Vegas Schools: $2,580 for 140 students and three teachers to study landscape design.


State’s colleges win $5M for STEM education


The U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic Serving Institution’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program will provide $5 million to eight New Mexico colleges to assist them to increase enrollment and graduation rates in STEM disciplines.


The funding includes:

• $615,226 for Eastern New Mexico University 

• $777,154 for Mesalands Community College 

• $869,556 for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

• $274,439 for New Mexico Highlands University 

• $358,758 for the University of New Mexico 

• $717,605 for UNM’s Valencia campus

• $548,186 for UNM’s Taos campus

• $869,092 for New Mexico State University’s Alamogordo campus


The funding will help prepare more New Mexicans for the work force, said U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, in a news release.


“Many of the best jobs in the future will be in the areas of math and science,” Bingaman said. “To ensure that New Mexico’s work force is prepared for the future, we’ll need to put a greater emphasis on math and science education, and that’s exactly what this grant funding will allow us to do.”


source: http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2011/09/26/states-colleges-win-5m-for-stem.html


NASA Selects New Mexico Teacher to be "Agent of Change" For STEM Education

GREENBELT, Md.,  Deb Novak, a teacher at Manzano Day SchoolAlbuquerque, New Mexico, has been awarded an Endeavor Fellowship with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA's Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project provides live, online training for educators working to earn a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) certificate from Teachers College, Columbia University, N.Y.

"This year marks the acceptance of 51 new Endeavor fellows in Cohort 4," said Katherine Bender, Education Specialist and lead for the project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The project is funded through NASA's Office of Education. Implementation is through Glen Schuster and U.S. Satellite Laboratory, Rye, N.Y."

Teachers engage with education experts, NASA scientists, and with each other to carry back to the classroom a greater understanding of NASA discoveries, to impact student learning in real-world contexts, to inspire a next generation of explorers, scientists, engineers and astronauts.

"Endeavor offers educators research-based ways to bring relevant NASA and STEM discipline content to a school's curriculum. The project helps educators to do this effectively," said Shelley Canright, Manager of Elementary, Secondary and e-Education at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The 2012 cohort of educators from around the U.S. represents many of our nation's future leaders in science, mathematics and technology education."

The highly-competitive NASA Fellowship is a model for effectual improvements in teacher practice. Endeavor is collaborating with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, promoting effective strategies for teaching and learning.

The project was designed and is administered by the U.S. Satellite Laboratory Inc., of Rye, N.Y. Funding for the program is provided through the NASA Endeavor Teacher Fellowship Trust Fund, in tribute to the dedicated crew of the space shuttle Challenger.

For additional information about the Endeavor Science Teaching Certificate Project, visit:


For information about NASA education programs, visit:




source: http://article.wn.com/view/2012/02/17/NASA_Selects_New_Mexico_Teacher_to_be_Agent_of_Change_For_ST/


New Mexico’s Etre-Pérez Becomes College Dean


New Mexico’s state director of adult basic education, Pam Etre-Pérez, will leave the New Mexico Higher Education Department on July 23 to become dean of the School of Adult and General Education at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque. During her six-year tenure at the New Mexico Higher Education Department, Etre-Pérez instituted seven approved policies governing adult education statewide as well as a state-of-the-art database system. She helped the state set statewide goals and created a strategic plan that will implement a performance-based funding formula beginning in July. Harrison Rommel will serve as director of the Adult Basic Education Division until a permanent appointment is made