STEM students build underwater robots at RCC

Sea Perch camp at RCC

A student works to attach the controller to his SeaPerch craft — that allowed the students to control their vehicle as it was submerged.

A Summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Academy at Rappahannock Community College’s Warsaw Campus, July 13-17, gave 23 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders the opportunity to build underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Kits and instructions were provided by the SeaPerch program (named after U.S.S. Perch, an innovative World War II submarine), which equips students and instructors with resources to teach engineering concepts, problem-solving, teamwork, and technical applications.

SeaPerch’s ROV kits are made up of readily available parts, and its curriculum covers many aspects of science and engineering. Building a SeaPerch ROV teaches skills useful for ship and submarine design, and encourages students to become familiar with the basics of both naval architecture and marine and ocean engineering.

While informing students about the many possible careers they can pursue in these and related fields, it also teaches technical procedures and instills the principles of tool safety. Two of the instructors — Lindsay Brooks and Dusty Remington — came from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in King George County; they were assisted by seven local teachers.

On the fourth day of the program, July 16, a small aboveground pool was set up so that the students could test their creations. Each robot consisted of a box-shape made of PVC piping and equipped with three propellers; remote-control buttons allowed the students to steer them around the pool.

Underwater duels were fought between two robots at a time, and the winner of each bout was the one that could hold its opponent against the side of the pool for at least ten seconds. On that beautiful, sunny day, the nonstop splashing was welcome.

“My experience at RCC has given me an insight on future opportunities I would like to pursue,” says one of the students. Another adds, “I really enjoyed the whole experience. Building the SeaPerch, with the hands-on work, was a ton of fun. I am looking forward to activities like this in the future.”

The instructors agreed; a representative comment was, “This program has been very enjoyable and rewarding for both my students and me. I’m hoping the SeaPerch program will be offered again next year.”

“The RCC staff and Dahlgren folks were superb: friendly and helpful,” remarked one of the local teachers. In particular, Dahlgren’s Dusty Remington was praised for having “a very gentle and positive way with students who found the fine motor skills challenging.”

“Students learn best by doing,” says the SeaPerch website, and this hands-on educational tool, besides being fun and challenging, meets national STEM learning standards for the students, and gives teachers practical ideas for making STEM subjects interesting in their own classes.

Participating students were Matthew Reid, Madilyn Newlon, Isak Watson, and Danny Rodgers, all from Colonial Beach; Carter Krusz, Matthew Stamper, and Tristan Gross, all from Essex County; Beverly Arbogast, Jasmin Vu, Jonah Kapp, and Michaela Tate, all from King George County; Bryson Cone, King William County; Spencer Wojtach and Evan Scribe, Mathews County; Alec Pesola and Grey Gourley, New Kent County; Jackson Moss, Myles Dixson, and Jordan Dandridge, all from Richmond County; and Jody Dean, Tenelle Fisher, Lydia Wallace, and Mackenzie Zimmerman, all of Westmoreland County. The local instructors were Steve Davis, David Holt, Keith Krusz, Shauna McCranie, Ed O’Connor, Kirsten Palubinski, and Brent Watson.