Louisiana Tech faculty challenge area high school students in robotics competition

Feb 12, 2010 | General News

Professors from Louisiana Tech’s College of Engineering and Science, and College of Liberal Arts teamed up to test the robotic design and programming talents of area high school students at the regional 2010 Mini-Urban Challenge hosted by the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City.

Eighteen teams from high schools throughout north Louisiana and Texas competed for the right to go to the national challenge in June in Dayton, Ohio.

At the conclusion of the two-day event, the teams from Benton High School in Benton, LA, and Parkway High School in Bossier City, LA bested the field to earn top honors and a spot in the national competition.

“The faculty mentors for both Benton and Parkway have been active in Louisiana Tech’s professional development programs over the past three or four years,” said Galen Turner, associate dean for Graduate Studies and program chair for Cyberspace Science and Engineering at Louisiana Tech.

“We are proud to see the success their teams had in this competition.”

Tech faculty observe robotics team from Ruston HSDrs. Kelly Crittenden, Christian Duncan, Brian Etheridge, Heath Tims, Turner, and James Phillips along with doctoral students Krystal Corbett and Emile Frey comprised the team of Louisiana Tech contributors. Their participation and work with the high school teachers/mentors prior to the Mini-Urban Challenge was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The purpose of the Mini-Urban Challenge competition is to challenge high school students to design and operate a robotic unmanned car built from a “LEGO MindStorms Education Kit” that can accurately navigate through a mock city.

Team scores are based on the navigation of the mock city, team presentations and responses given during informal questioning.

In preparation for the Mini-Urban Challenge, the Tech faculty members provided the teachers/mentors with a hands-on workshop last November in order to assist them in leading the student-teams.

“The Mini-Urban Challenge is just one example of the many educational K-12 outreach activities that [Louisiana Tech] is involved in,” Tims said. “It is exciting to see so many middle and high school students get excited about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

“Like many of our other K-12 outreach activities, this event asks students to think critically and push themselves academically.”

Louisiana Tech has led the way in north Louisiana in developing long-term relationship with high school teachers through active, hands-on, projects-based professional development programs such as TechSTEP, Cyber Discovery and NASA-Threads.

In addition to serving as judges for each competition, the Tech faculty and students also designed two special competitions, appropriately named the “Tech Challenges” in which student-teams competed for a $250 prize provided by the Cyber Innovation Center.

“The Tech Challenges offered a unique and dynamic venue for students to show-off their problem solving, critical thinking and programming skills,” said G.B. Cazes, vice president and assistant director for the Cyber Innovation Center. “It was a great compliment to the Mini-Urban Challenge Competition.”

Cazes also said that Louisiana Tech has demonstrated a unique ability to “bridge” gaps not only across K-16, but also across STEM and liberal arts fields as well.

“Tech’s faculty ‘connects’ with the high school students. I think it’s extremely valuable for these high school students to interact and learn from university faculty. It not only provides them with another perspective, but it also helps students to understand the career and academic opportunities that are available.”

Other regional competitions are taking place throughout the winter and spring in Dayton, Ohio, Shalimar, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

The Mini-Urban Challenge’s regional and national competitions are sponsored by the Institute of Navigation (ION) and the Air Force Research Laboratory.



Written by Dave Guerin