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Members of New Mexico State University's student chapter of Associated General Contractors spent more than 400 cumulative hours building the playing field for the annual NM BEST Robotics Competition. (NMSU photo) NOV16

NMSU Engineering Students Learn Skills Through Volunteer Projects

The dust settles in the wake of remote-controlled robots harvesting crops and the winners of the Boosting Engineering and Science Technology Robotics competition, hosted by New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering, are announced.

The middle- and high-school-student participants leave the playing field, which, like the students’ robots, took much time and ingenuity to build.

The 2016 competition’s playing field, a farm, was built by the Associated General Contractors of NMSU, a chartered student organization.

“AGC has been building the BEST field for about eight years,” said John Ross Tapia, assistant professor in the Engineering Technology Department and AGC’s faculty adviser.

There are about 15 students from different engineering majors in the organization. Together, Tapia said, he estimates they put in more than 400 cumulative hours in building the BEST field.

“We receive the blueprints from BEST Robotics in the summer, then we send them out to the students in AGC to review,” Tapia said. “When we get back in the fall, the materials will already have been ordered and it usually takes about eight weeks for us to build the field.”

The organization primarily works in five-hour shifts on Saturdays, along with some weekdays, Tapia said.

AGC is also present during kickoff, mall/practice day and the competition, a nine-hour commitment on average, to set up, maintain and repair the playing field if anything should break or need to be reset, Tapia said.

Before competition day, middle- and high-school students build robots to complete tasks on the field. This year’s tasks on the farm included planting seeds, harvesting tomatoes, corn and lettuce, and herding pigs into a pen and feeding them.

“They’re little toy pigs,” said Tapia. “And the corn are paint rollers, the tomatoes are whiffle balls connected to the vine by Velcro, the lettuce is loofahs tied up and they have a bolt that is grounded by a magnet, so the robots have to pick them up off the magnets, and the cornstalks are wood dowels that hold a hose where the corn-paint roller is placed.”

Tapia said the AGC students each year are excited to build the BEST field because of how much they want to engage younger students in the STEM fields.

In addition to building the BEST field, AGC in the past has also done work for El Caldito Soup Kitchen and Habitat for Humanity. They have plans in place to work with these two organizations in the coming months.

For El Caldito, AGC usually performs kitchen and serving duties, Tapia said.

“For Habitat for Humanity, last year, they were working on rafters for one of the houses,” Tapia said. “This year they’re helping to build a blind for birders in the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park on request from the director.”

AGC is currently designing blueprints for the blind, Tapia said.

Doing such work helps the group raise money each year for the Associated Schools of Construction Region 6 and 7 competition, which will be held in Sparks, Nevada, Feb. 8-11, 2017. The students will receive blueprints, put together a bid and schedule for the project, and prepare a presentation.

“The ASC competition is a great real-word application project for our students to be involved in,” Tapia said.

Author – Billy Huntsman, NMSU

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