NSU hosts annual robotics competition online


NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University’s Department of Engineering Technology hosted the sixth annual Robotics Competition and Smart Structure Show (RC&SC3) through online delivery this year.  Nine teams participated in the competition that promotes STEM-related activities intended to guide students towards careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The competition was open to all middle schools within a 200-mile radius of Natchitoches. The robotics competition included synchronous and asynchronous events and short presentations by NSU professors.

“This is the first time that we delivered the activity online,” said Dr. Jafar Al Sharab, department head.  “The event went very well, and the participants loved the event and enjoyed it.”

This year’s winners were Caddo Middle Magnet, first place and $150 gift card; Natchitoches Magnet, second place and $100 gift card, and Donnie Bickham Middle, third place and $50 gift card.

The robotics competition was established in 2015 by the Department of Engineering Technology and is designed to be fun, while helping students to think above and beyond the limits of their normal robotics studies.

“The tournament tests the students’ ability to design, engineer and program a robot that can be used to compete in a robotics competition challenge. Due to the pandemic, the NSU-RC&S3 featured three challenges and was conducted virtually this year,” Al Sharab said. “The ET department has partnered with NASA on STEM initiatives and hence the theme of the competition, “To Mars and Beyond…”

Laura Lyles, president of the Natchitoches Area Chamber of Commerce, offered opening and closing remarks.  The Chamber’s A+ Coalition education initiative, sponsored the event, along with the Department of Engineering Technology.

Reaction from robotics team sponsors was positive.

“With the new concerns for COVID, it was exciting to see that NSU decided to continue their robotics competition in a virtual setting. The middle school teams loved competing last year. We are thankful that Dr. Jafar F. Al-Sharab and the NSU Department of Engineering Technology hosted this event,” says Natchitoches Magnet School Robotics coach Amanda Dollar. “These kids are truly self-motivated and passionate about robotics. It was wonderful to see their hard work celebrated with a second place win.”

Dollar said her students adapted quickly to the format of the virtual competition, thanks to their familiarity with online meeting platforms. Teammates Bryan Chen, Isaac Young and Nathaniel Young showcased their work to some of Natchitoches Magnet School’s fifth graders.

“They loved seeing the NMS robot move through the maze and especially enjoyed a video game that Nathaniel and Isaac animated and programed through Scratch,” Dollar said. “It was a fun day.  It allowed the students to be creative in an educational and rigorous setting. The team enjoyed seeing other schools compete and learning about the use of advanced technology in the workforce, for example robot-assisted surgery.”

Flynn Dulle, Caddo Middle Magnet Robotics sponsor, said the virtual event lived up to previous events.

“I very much appreciate the competition’s challenges being straight-forward problems for the students to solve with their efforts focused on innovative programming and/or engineering solutions instead of complex puzzles that require hints, clue and cross-curricular material just for the sake of including it,” Dulle said.

Billy Cloutet, Discoveries/STEM/robotics teacher at Donnie Bickham said his team appreciated the creative approach to this year’s event, given the current challenges in the field of education.

For more information about the Engineering Technology disciplines at NSU or to learn more about other STEM related activities, contact Al Sharab at jafar@nsula.edu.

A team from Caddo Middle Magnet School in Shreveport won first place in NSU’s sixth annual Robotics Competition and Smart Structure Show.
Winners, judges, event organizers, speakers and sponsors are pictured in the virtual closing ceremony and announcement of awards of the NSU Robotics Competition and Smart Structure Show.