Hosted by the College of Engineering to support STEM education
Armed with underwater robots, matching T-shirts, and plenty of enthusiasm, nearly 200 teams of middle- and high-school students arrived at UMass Dartmouth during the weekend of June 1-3 to participate in the 2018 International SeaPerch Challenge. The event combines an underwater robotics competition with an exploration of related science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts.
Teams of 6th-12th graders representing 34 U.S. states, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands participated in the two-day competition. Nearly 1,000 students and mentors visited UMass Dartmouth for the challenge, previously hosted here in 2015.
The SeaPerch program provides students with the opportunity to learn about STEM concepts while building underwater remotely operated vehicles to complete an obstacle course and perform a designated mission. Throughout the challenge, students learn engineering concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications.
“We are excited to host the 2018 International SeaPerch competition at UMass Dartmouth,” said College of Engineering Interim Dean Ramprasad Balasubramanian. “This provides an opportunity for students to visit a Tier 1 national research university that is committed to growing STEM opportunities for the next generation of students.
“The College of Engineering has several initiatives underway to create greater engagement with middle- and high-school students interested in STEM disciplines,” he added. “We are committed to supporting these students so they go on to have successful careers in STEM fields.”
New programs introduced with exciting underwater events
Pool competitions began on Saturday, June 2, at the Tripp Athletic Center Pool, and continued through Sunday, June 3, followed by an awards ceremony.
As sixth-grader Quentin Ross of Bloomington, IN, waited to enter the pool area for the first round of competition with his teammate, Daniel Lauderdale, he said he felt “awesome. I’m excited to drive my robot. I think we’re going to do pretty well.”
The third member of his family to compete in SeaPerch, Ross said he learned how to build motors and controllers. The team practiced at a local family’s indoor pool and raised $16,000 from local businesses to bring 10 students and chaperones to the competition, according to their math teacher Diane Rodriguez.
A team of eighth graders, Aaryan Vashistha and Micah Yang of Pearland, Texas, were confident as their underwater vehicle quickly finished the first day’s challenge. By participating in SeaPerch, they learned “how things work, how a lot of things impact speed and buoyancy,” said Yang.
Launched for the first time this year, a STEM Expo was held at the Claire T. Carney Library Living Room throughout the weekend and was assisted by students from the College of Engineering. While they weren’t at the pool for the underwater robotics competition, SeaPerch participants enjoyed fun demonstrations, challenge activities, and team-building stations.
The Kaput Center for Research & Innovation in STEM education drew a range of students to their demonstration of state-of-the-art technologies during the STEM Expo. Professor Chandra Orrill, director of the Kaput Center; Assistant Professor Stephen Witzig, a research scientist at the center; and Christopher Clinton, STEM lecturer and teacher education coordinator led students in exciting, hands-on experiences. SeaPerch participants learned about swarming behavior with Bristlebots, the use of color to program and race mini robots called Ozobots, and about erosion and other earth science concepts with an Augmented Reality Sandbox.
Students could also work as a team on one of six challenge activities or team building stations. Challenges ranged from building a toothpick bridge that was tested with varying amounts of weight to creating water rockets or helicopters powered by a rubber band.
Team building stations allowed students to explore a variety of engineering challenges while working individually, as a team, or with students from other teams. One of the activities required determining the height of the UMass Dartmouth campanile.
Also introduced for the first time, Engineering Notebook Presentations were held in the MacLean Campus Center. The presentations provided an opportunity for students to share their learning innovations and science understanding. Teams used the notebook to document the development and modification of their SeaPerch vehicles using hand sketches, photos, hand-written notes, graphs and charts, and computer-aided design drawings.
The Hetwiler Halibuts of Fleming Island, FL, was the winning team in the underwater robotics competition.
"All of us at RoboNation could not be more thrilled with how everything went at the International SeaPerch Challenge," said Krista Gauthier, STEM program director for RoboNation. "Words fall short of the enthusiasm, dedication, passion, and innovation we witnessed from all 172 teams who participated. This weekend was hugely successful not only because of our team, but also because of the support and dedication of all those who contributed—our hosts at UMass Dartmouth, the crew from NAVSEA who ran a stellar pool deck, and our title sponsor, Raytheon, to name a few.”
STEM touches all aspects of our lives
According to Gauthier, the STEM Expo offered students a fun experience away from the pool that showcased STEM activities. "SeaPerch is a gateway into a much larger robotics and STEM community that encourages the innovation, creativity, and passion needed to foster the future generation of STEM leaders," said Gauthier. "The Expo was our way to allow our students to shine in multiple ways and to see all the amazing ways STEM contributes to our world.
“The goal of our program is to engage students in STEM as a metadiscipline, a way of thinking that helps them to solve the problems of tomorrow,” added Gauthier. “We always ask our students, not what do you want to be, but rather, what problem do you want to solve?”
“STEM touches every aspect of our lives, from the roads and bridges we travel to the food we eat to the clothing we wear,” said Cheryl Hedeen, a member of the SeaPerch team.
According to Hedeen, between 2017 and 2027, the number of STEM jobs will grow 13 percent, compared to 9 percent for non-STEM jobs. Positions in computers, engineering, and advanced manufacturing are leading the way. Workers with STEM-related degrees earn an average of 26 percent more than workers without a STEM-related degree.
Her advice to the students attending SeaPerch also applies to college-level studies. “To prepare for STEM degrees and careers, take the most advanced math and science courses your school offers. Become competent in 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, speaking and writing effectively, collaboration, and teamwork. Colleges and employers will be looking for applicants with the right coursework as well as relevant work experience gained through internships, job shadows, or summer jobs.”