BHSU students mentor middle schoolers during underground robotics competition at Sanford Lab

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, March 8, 2016/Categories: 2016

Rob Dahlenburg (left), senior mathematics and science education major from Spearfish, gets final instructions from Spearfish Middle School students and teacher Andy Johnson before taking their robot underground during the BHSU Underground Robotics Competition at Sanford Lab.

Taylor Watkins, sophomore environmental physical science major at BHSU from Beresford, maneuvers her middle school students' robot through an underground obstacle course at Sanford Lab as part of the first-ever BHSU Underground Robotics Competition.

BHSU students worked with middle schoolers and teachers from Spearfish and Belle Fourche Middle Schools to create robots for the BHSU Underground Robotics Competition at Sanford Lab.

Students at Black Hills State University went nearly a mile underground at Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead to test robots made by middle school students recently. The event was part of the first-ever BHSU Underground Robotics Competition.

Throughout the past two months, BHSU students visited Belle Fourche and Spearfish Middle Schools to work with 17 students to create the robots using LEGO Mindstorm kits. The middle schoolers engineered and tested their robots on an obstacle course at school. Then, they sent their robot underground at Sanford Lab, with the help of their BHSU student mentor, to see how the robots would perform in the underground environment.

Teri Bauerly, a STEM educator at Spearfish Middle School and a BHSU alum, said the competition encouraged students to work through the problem-solving process.

"The students had to engineer their robots and rebuild them multiple times to meet the obstacle course requirements," said Bauerly. "They also learned about programming and coding."

The day of the competition, the middle school students met the BHSU students at Sanford Lab to deliver their robots.

Mariana Erkstan, a sixth grade student at Belle Fourche Middle School, said she was excited to see her team's robot go underground.

"My favorite part about the robot is the shovel. I'm excited to see how it does on the course," said Erkstan.

After traveling nearly a mile underground, the BHSU students landed at a replicated obstacle course on the 4850 foot level of Sanford Lab.

One by one, the robots traversed the course aided by the BHSU student mentors. The middle school students watched the action in real-time via a live feed from the underground into a classroom at Sanford Lab.

Throughout the competition day, the middle school students also spent a "day in the life" of a Sanford Lab scientist, suiting up in coveralls and hardhats while learning about what scientists do day-to-day underground.

The day was also a unique learning experience for the BHSU students. While underground, the students toured several large, cutting-edge research experiments housed at Sanford Lab while brainstorming ways they could conduct research in this unique environment.

Dr. Brianna Mount, research assistant professor of physics at BHSU, said the Robotics Competition was an outreach opportunity for BHSU students to get involved in a community project.

"It was great for our students to experience the underground environment-both for future research they may conduct and because they'll be able to take this experience into their future classrooms as educators," said Mount. "I know they inspired the middle school students, too."

The winners of the Robotics Competition were Keigan Shaykett and Lily Sneesby from Spearfish Middle School.

Teachers who contributed their time after school and in planning the event included Bauerly and Leslie Wangeman from Spearfish Middle School, and Nicole Hayworth and Andy Johnson from Belle Fourche Middle School.

BHSU students who served as mentors included:
  • Rob Dahlenburg, senior mathematics and science education major from Spearfish
  • Krystal Nelson, junior biology major from Gordon, Neb.
  • Tanya Robinson, senior psychology major from Rapid City
  • Amber Lau, freshman biology major from Deadwood
  • Taylor Watkins, sophomore environmental physical science major from Beresford
  • Tyler Bortz, sophomore biology and mass communication major from Colstrip, Mont.
  • Kayla Spiel, senior chemistry major from Faith
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