Renowned Underground Research Facility hosts Robotics Competition for Area Middle Schools


Maggie Boever, chemistry major from Dell Rapids, sets up her robot for the course.

LEAD, S.D. - The last four years, Black Hills State University has partnered up with area middle schools competing in an Underground Robotics Competition at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead.

Students from BHSU met with the middle schoolers for a period of time leading up to the competition. This year there were ten students majoring in business administration, corporate communications, science education, chemistry, physical science, integrative genomics, and exercise science.


Lily Hoffman, science education major from Mitchell says, “The middle schoolers were really the ones in charge – they were the ones doing the programming and coming up with the ideas for each of their robots.”


The mentors merely served as a gateway during the project. A gateway to knowledge and the underground campus at SURF. They were there to aid students when they ran into problems, but the original ideas are all from the students. Hoffman credits the middle school students exclaiming, “It was really cool to see what their imaginations came up with, and help them bring the robots to life.”


Participating middles schools this year were: Belle Fourche Middle School, Lead-Deadwood Middle School, Southwest Middle School, and Spearfish Middle School.

Robert Dahlenburg, an alum of BHSU and science teacher at Southwest Middle School in Rapid City, acted as a student mentor for the BHSU Underground Robotics Competition for two years before his graduation in 2017. Now, he’s able to share that experience with his own students in the robotics club at Southwest, and this time, help direct from the surface.


Dahlenburg says, “It’s easy for someone to look at the EV3 robots and see them as toys, but, when I see them and the students work on them, I see the next generation of engineering. The skills the students are developing and working on now, really are the jobs that will be in high demand over the next decade as automation and robotics grows. The concepts, the problems addressed, they’re essentially the same.”

The students gain a hands on perspective in the STEM field while gaining a fun exciting field trip to the competition site. Unfortunately, the middle schoolers aren't allowed underground, but that's one are the BHSU mentors step in.



Underground, BHSU mentors were given tours of the 4850 Level, which hosts extraordinary projects and experiments that can only be conducted in this underground environment. This included a tour of the BHSU Underground Campus, where students are invited to conduct hands-on undergraduate research while they take classes at BHSU.



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