According to The Derrick's newspaper on October 16, 2015, about twenty students in grades 7-11 from Christian Life Academy in Seneca showcased their engineering and marketing talents at BEST Robotics Competition at Grove City College. Over 350 students converged at Grove City for the two-day competition.

The “BEST” in BEST Robotics stands for boosting engineering, science and technology. The national non-profit organization encourages students to consider careers in engineering and technology. It was started by a couple engineers from Texas Instruments over 20 years ago.

While building a working robot is central, each school presents an entire company.

“The program focuses on STEM professions – science, technology, engineering, and math,” said Tracy Walter, the director of marketing for CLA. “The nice part is there’s a component for marketing for the kids, too. So those who have no interest in engineering can still be on the team. We can get the ones who want to be graphic designers or marketing people, publicity people, PR and construction people.”

Competition began Sept. 5 when this year’s theme, “Pay Dirt,” was announced. Each school was given a plastic tub filled with the only materials they were allowed to use to build their robot – this year to be designed specifically for mining. Last year teams built a wind turbine.

Ryan Fair is in tenth grade and is the CLA team’s director of engineering for the second year.

“I make sure the robot is built and performing the way it’s supposed to be,” said Fair. “It has to perform different tasks to collect minerals or resources such as coal, iron, copper, aluminum and lithium from the floor. And ours has a scoop that picks the items up off the floor and carries it off.”

Ryan’s father, Mike Fair, is the team’s engineering parent mentor. He knows a lot about this year’s theme, as a senior designer at Joy Global, having worked for 23 years at the coal mining equipment company.

The team was able to practice their presentation to 40 of Fair’s peers at Joy on a Tuesday.

“It went really good,” said Fair. “The Joy employees embraced them. You know how picky our engineers are at Joy. And some of the guys asked them some pretty point blank real world questions. Put them on the spot and the team did very well.”

On October 17, a total of 19 schools from Western PA met at Grove City to compete in the BEST Robotics. Six teams qualified for the regional competition in Fargo, ND from December 3 to December 5, 2015. Christian Life Academy came in 6th place. There is the potential for 43 teams to be competing at Fargo.