By MC2 Tyler Caswell
The United States Naval Academy (USNA) hosted a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) event for Anne Arundel County Public Schools and surrounding counties at Rickover Hall April 9.
More than 450 middle-school students from 40 schools competed in the 2016 Maryland Regional SeaPerch Challenge, testing student-built underwater robots.
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) in an in-school or out-of-school setting. Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily-accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme.
USNA’s STEM faculty hold year-round instructional seminars to teach educators how the ROVs are built, and then bring them to the Yard for a competitive testing in USNA’s Hydro Lab. More than 130 ROVs were tested in multiple areas that cover a wide scope of maneuverability, speed, and capability challenges.
“I keep coming back for the experience,” said Reed Matkins, an 8th grade student from Old Mill Middle South School. “Doing the SeaPerch requires so many different parts of STEM. It’s so much fun to build, test it in our pool and bring it here to see all the different designs and variations. I’m very competitive, and it’s fun to come out and see how competitive everyone else gets.”
Building the ROVs help the students learn the basics of engineering, teamwork and problem-solving in and out of the classroom.
“The SeaPerch is an underwater robot project that combines a number of engineering challenges,” said Angela Moran, faculty member in USNA’s Mechanical Engineering Dept. and director for the STEM Center and Outreach. “Teams of students will have to build the SeaPerch, waterproof its circuitry, control its buoyancy and maneuver it by a tethered remote. This physical testing shows students hands-on applications and the difference between having it on paper, and actually doing it.”
More than 80 volunteers – including USNA faculty, staff and midshipmen – donated their time to streamline the rotation of students, help with on-site repairs, and perform competition recording and judging. Volunteers understand the concepts, challenges and solutions students undertake in making the ROVs will help students approach later challenges with a different outlook.
“I love being able to talk to young kids and see them excited about the ideas that I enjoy as an adult,” Midshipman 3rd Class Anna Haschert. “I didn’t necessarily have the exposure to these programs while I was younger. I think that exposure will help build their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which can be universally applied to all challenges.”
USNA’s STEM program hosts various events year round, impacting approximately 18,000 students annually through its outreach program. After optimizing its capacity for hosting events, the program is focusing efforts on expanding its mentorship of nearly 1,000 teachers to impact as many students as possible.
“What we’ve been doing is pushing the envelope with teachers,” said Moran. “We feel we are having a substantial impact through teachers. Kids really do want to change the world, and if they see that programs like this provide opportunities to train to actually do something with their life, they are more willing to participate. I think that’s what resonates with them.”
For more information about USNA’s STEM Center visit: https://www.usna.edu/STEM