By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
A new club will give local students valuable hands-on, real-world experience that will translate to technology based jobs in the future.
For the first time, Millsaps Career and Technology Center is hosting a Mississippi B.E.S.T. (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) club, a group that challenges students to solve a problem by building a real robot, which they then have to market and sell.
In just two weeks, teams from all over the state will come to Starkville High School to receive their assignment. All the teams will be given the same problem to solve.
“We have not been given any specifics except that we will be learning more about robotics and engineering, along with the science, marketing and designing that goes with it,” club member Jacob Brewinton said. “We are going to be selling our robots as a business so that we can better prepare ourselves for our future in case we go into that certain field.”
Once teams receive the assignment, they will have just 42 days to design, build and test their robot before the first competition at the end of October. Schools from the Mississippi hub — which also includes several schools from Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee — will come to SHS for the two day competition.
The competition will entail more than just building a robot. Groups will be required to give a formal presentation, construct a marketing booth and keep a technical notebook.
“This is something we’re all doing for the very first time. All of us, even us coaches are learning as we go,” David Holloway, an automotive technology teacher at Millsaps who is acting as a team coach said.
Though five teachers will provide support and advice, the entire project will be designed by the students from start to finish.
“It’s all student driven. A big part of it is having them go through the engineering design process to problem solve,” Cindy McLaughlin, a S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher at Millsaps and B.E.S.T. coach, said.
Throughout the experience, it will be critical that the students learn to work together to solve the problem. During their first meeting, the club focused mainly on team building activities.
“The first meeting was one of the most fun. It’s definitely something I would like to experience and keep going with, and I think my friends in the robotics club would agree with me,” Brewington said. “In the first meeting we worked on teamwork exercises, building stuff and learning how to better produce. It seems like it’s going to be really fun. I’m really looking forward to kick-off.”
If the Millsaps team succeeds during the hub competition in October, it will move onto the regional competition in Auburn and from there on to the national competition.
Several of the teachers attended the regional competition last year, and they were extremely impressed by the teams and what they had accomplished.
“It’s just one of the best vehicles I’ve seen for the problem solving, critical thinking process for kids to get into,” she said. “We were just blown away by what we saw. It’s as much excitement on the floor as you would see at a basketball game — but cheering for technology.”
McLaughlin said that they are looking for industry professionals to act as mentors for the students.
“We’re trying enlist community involvement in the form of sponsorship or for engineers and business people to help as mentors during different parts of the process,” she said. “During those 42 days, there is a huge learning curve.”
The club is open to any students in Oktibbeha County between grades 8-12. The club is still accepting members. For more information, contact Denise Adair at email@example.com  or call (662) 324-4170.