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BEST Robotics program catapults high school students to presidential science fair

Three Wetumpka High School students who participated in the Auburn University-sponsored BEST Robotics outreach program were selected to travel to Washington, D.C., for the 2015 White House Presidential Science Fair as honored guests.

The high school’s BEST Robotics team leaders, Zena Banker, Ernald Jules Aloria and Joshuah Noel, represented the team at the White House and stood behind President Barack Obama during a broadcast address in which he elaborated on the importance of science education. The students also interacted with the president, as well as peers from across the nation, engineers, scientists like Bill Nye, high-level senior government officials, private sector representatives and others.

Wetumpka High School is the only BEST Robotics team in the nation to receive an invitation to participate in the 2015 White House Presidential Science Fair.

The students traveled to Washington, D.C., as representatives of Friends of BEST in Alabama, a not-for-profit organization formed in Alabama to provide additional resources supporting education and workforce development.

“When Friends of BEST in Alabama was informed of our invitation to the White House, there was no other team more deserving than Wetumpka,” said Robin Fenton, director of Friends of BEST in Alabama.

The three student representatives were selected by Friends of BEST in Alabama to participate in the science fair based on their performance with BEST Robotics, as well as a written essay.

Banker, who also was invited to participate in an exclusive women’s roundtable discussion at the White House, wrote an essay about her early childhood spent in foster care due to biological parents who were addicted to alcohol and drugs. She described how her life changed for the better at age 6 when she was adopted. Once a shy young lady without strong friendships, she detailed in her essay how her blossoming interest in science has led to both respect from her peers and new friendships.

“I wasn’t exactly the smartest kid when I was in middle school, and other kids made fun of me because of it,” said Banker. “In high school, I caught up.”

Banker, who is a junior, currently has the highest grade point average in her class and is the co-captain of the BEST Robotics team.

“I realized I liked science when I was in eighth grade and I joined the robotics team when I was a freshman. Joining the BEST Robotics team opened my eyes to a whole new world of science,” said Banker. “I now read scientific articles, have had opportunities to network with companies, and I know I want to be a biomedical engineer, specifically a tissue engineer. And going to D.C. – never in a million years did I think I would do that!”

BEST, which stands for “Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology,” is a program sponsored by Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. BEST Robotics is recognized and supported by the Alabama Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, as well as hundreds of businesses, industries and other community partnerships across the state of Alabama. Designed for middle and high school students, the national, all-volunteer program was introduced to the state of Alabama by Auburn University in 2001. During the past 14 years, BEST Robotics has expanded within the state to include 11 competition sites with nearly 200 public, private and homeschools participating.

BEST Robotics culminates in one of three regional championships, including South’s BEST. The South’s BEST championship is headquartered at Auburn University and in 2014, it featured the top 56 teams from multiple states, including Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The Wetumpka High School robotics team is a member of the War Eagle BEST hub, and in 2014, they were the highest-ranking team in the state of Alabama and the second-highest at the South’s BEST championship. To applaud their achievements, the Business Council of Alabama recently presented the team with the BEST of the BEST Award for the state of Alabama.

“I cannot think of a better group of students to showcase how BEST Robotics changes lives and allows students to imagine themselves as future scientists and engineers,” said Mary Lou Ewald, director of outreach for the College of Sciences and Mathematics at Auburn. “The War Eagle BEST staff at Auburn University is extremely proud to have the Wetumpka High School students represent us at the White House.”

For more information on BEST Robotics in Alabama, go to http://www.southsbest.org. For more information on the 2015 White House Presidential Science Fair, go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/science-fair.

By Candis Birchfield

Related Links:

2015 White House Presidential Science Fair

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Auburn University program promotes worldwide mathematics research in southern Africa

Overtoun Jenda made a promise that he would increase the presence of American mathematical research in Africa and capitalize on an opportunity to create U.S.-Africa collaboration through Auburn University and Southern Africa Mathematical Sciences Association, or SAMSA.

When Jenda, associate provost for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, attended a conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2009 held by SAMSA, he was the only representative from the United States.

When he returned to Auburn, Jenda, along with Ash Abebe, A.J. Meir and Peter Johnson of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, together with southern Africa mathematicians, began to brainstorm and developed what would become the Masamu Program, meaning mathematics in the southern African region.

The group submitted a proposal for funding to the National Science Foundation and received a grant for a two-year pilot program. The first Masamu Advanced Study Institute, or MASI, was held in 2011 in Livingstone, Zambia.

The program was so successful that the department approached the NSF for more support and was granted funding for an additional five years. The NSF funding covers the cost of U.S. participants, while African mathematicians use their own sources of funding and sponsorships.

“The main purpose of the program is to promote U.S.-African collaboration on research,” said Jenda. “There are very good mathematicians in Africa, and the Masamu Program offers several research areas for faculty and students to work together.”

Each year, a MASI event is held in one of the 15 participating countries: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda.

The institutes allow students and faculty from around the world to form teams and share research in the areas of algebra and geometry, analysis and topology, coding theory and information theory, graph theory, epidemiological modeling, numerical approximation of solutions of partial differential equations, mathematics of finance and statistics.

Faculty including Abebe, Jenda, Johnson, Erkan Nane and Kevin Phelps, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, serve as research team co-leaders alongside mathematicians from Africa.

“In some areas such as epidemiological modeling, the Africans have different approaches, so it’s very exciting to see how these researchers work together on problems,” said Jenda.

At its start, the program consisted of 41 research faculty, but has grown to 57 and includes Africans, Canadians, Europeans and Americans.

“Our 2014 MASI in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, was the biggest yet, and more than half of the keynote speakers there were from Auburn,” said Jenda. “A large group of Auburn students attended, and there is definitely an increase in participation from promising female mathematicians, too.”

Masamu Program participants have published research findings, completed dissertations and theses, and received appointments to fellowship, postdoctoral and faculty positions in the United States and Africa all while making new academic connections across the world.

Jenda, director of the program along with Abebe and Johnson, co-directors, organize and plan all facets of the Masamu Program through the business office of the Office Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

The 2015 MASI will be held Nov. 20-29 in Swakopmund, Namibia, and the directors anticipate more participation than ever.

“For the future, the biggest thing is how we can sustain this great program. We hope to make this a permanent part of the College of Sciences and Mathematics and Auburn University,” said Jenda. “We’re also working to come up with new and innovative ideas so we can get continued support from NSF and other sources.”

For more information about the Masamu Program, go to https://www.masamu.auburn.edu.

By Lindsay Miles

Closing America’s Innovation Deficit

Universities like Auburn can be the engines of innovation, but funding is critical to fuel these engines. Recently, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (of which Auburn is a member) joined over 130 national business, higher education, scientific, patient, and other organizations to urge Members of Congress to help close America’s Innovation Deficit by passing an omnibus FY2015 appropriations bill this year that includes increased investments in scientific research and higher education.
To learn more about America’s Innovation Deficit and to read their appeal to Congress, check out: http://www.innovationdeficit.org/ or follow the conversation on Twitter using  #InnovationDeficit

 

Auburn Research Hubs

Auburn_Hubs

Our vision for the future of Auburn Research cuts across department boundaries.  We have examined the most pressing challenges both within the borders of Alabama and far beyond, from the environmental risks in the Northern Gulf of Mexico to security in our cyber world.  We have analyzed Auburn’s existing strengths–great minds turning ideas into meaningful results in fields like biomedical imaging and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Based on this insight, we have focused strategically on clear research objectives in six interdisciplinary hubs.  Auburn Research is bringing together seemingly disparate interests to harness our intellectual power and passion toward vital common goals like curing cancer, sustainably meeting our energy needs and defining the future of transportation.  This is how Auburn Research will move us from the world we have now to the world we want tomorrow.

Our hubs:

  • Energy and the Environment
  • Health Sciences (including Food Systems)
  • Cyber
  • Transportation
  • Gulf of Mexico Research and Restoration
  • STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education)

To learn more, visit: www.auburn.edu/research