Mississippi Hosts Fourth Annual National SeaPerch Challenge

Posted by Irina Tabakina

The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, MS, and the Mississippi Regional SeaPerch Committee in mid-May hosted the Fourth National SeaPerch Challenge on the campus of Southern Miss. It was here that 108 teams of 451 middle and high school students – students from 19 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and for a first time ever, and international team from New Zealand – convened at the University’s Payne Center and Johnson Natatorium for a weekend of competition and fun. 
The 2014 competition was notable in that it set new records, with a 30% increase in the number of teams and a 35% increase in student participation as compared to 2013. This fourth National Challenge was sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Naval Engineering Education Center (NEEC) as well as ASNE, CISD, Lockheed Martin, Louisiana State University, Maritime Reporter & Engineering News, MathWorks, Mississippi State University, NRL, NAVSEA Warfare Center Division Newport, the Navy League, the Navy League STEM Institute, NDEP, SNAME, STEM2Stern and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Currently the AUVSI Foundation administers SeaPerch and ONR has funded this popular educational outreach program since the end of 2007, during which time SeaPerch has grown exponentially, with more than 180,000 students having participated in virtually every state.  With more than 12,000 teachers and mentors engaged in the program over the past seven years, students have learned valuable life skills through hands-on activities and enhanced science curricula to discover the excitement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as a potential future career path.
This underwater robotics program supports teachers and provides curriculum enhancement in compliance with national standards to assist students in constructing this underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in an in-school, after school or out-of-school setting. Students build their own SeaPerch ROV following a curriculum that teaches science and engineering nomenclature, terminology and basic principles with an ocean and marine engineering theme.  Because of its popularity and rapid rate of expansion, a natural goal of the SeaPerch Program has been to develop geographical districts and regions where top winning teams from qualifying competitions could earn a slot at the annual National event. 
All teams arrived on campus on Friday to check in and care for several logistical details. After dinner they were invited to a presentation by the Science Brothers and were treated to an Ice Cream Social, to meet and mingle with fellow competitors.
The next day the day started early in Payne Center’s auditorium.  Susan Nelson, Executive Director of SeaPerch and Mistress of Ceremonies, welcomed the 108 teams, parents and friends and thanked the members of the Mississippi Regional Planning Committee.  There was a roster of speakers, including CMDR David Arnold, Director of Diversity, Navy Recruiting Command, who spoke about the value of a STEM education and this country’s need for scientists and engineers, as well as Dr. Herbert Eppert from the Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, who applauded the SeaPerch Program and reinforced the value of a strong education in the sciences.
Throughout the day teams competed in three events including the Poster Presentation held in the Center’s classrooms, and two underwater events at the Johnson Natatorium – the Obstacle Course and the Heist Challenge, on three levels: Middle School, High School and the Open Class.  Of the 108 teams in attendance on Saturday, 55 were middle school, 43 high school and 10 in the Open Class.
The Poster Presentations: In the Poster Presentations the teams described their SeaPerch project to a panel of three judges consisting of engineers and educators.  Each poster was scored based on appearance, objectives and summary, professional behavior, design explanation, engineering concepts and the team members’ responses to the judges’ questions.
The submerged obstacle course: The course consisted of five, 22-inch diameter hoops, oriented in different planes, through which the vehicles had to be maneuvered.  Teams were required to navigate through the entire obstacle course, surface, then re-submerge and return through the course again to the end.  Scores for this round were based on the shorter time of two runs successfully navigating the course within the 15-minute time allotment.
The Heist Challenge: A new underwater event this year, called the Heist Challenge, consisted of a mesh vault wall spanning the lane from bottom to the surface.  Starting two feet below the surface was a vault door, located within a two-ft. square opening in the wall.  In order to open the door operators had to manipulate a latch with their ROV and push open the vault door.  On the far side of the wall was a series of six boxes to be retrieved, each of a different weight.  Operators had to pick up as many of the boxes as possible within the time allotted and deposit them on an 18 x 24-in. lay-down area on the operator’s side of the wall.  Scoring was based on the number of boxes retrieved in 15 minutes.
This year 120 judges and volunteers helped to keep the busy day running smoothly.
The event was video-streamed live from poolside via the SeaPerch website so sponsors, supporters and team coaches could invite their companies and their schools’ principals, superintendents, teachers, and fellow students as well as families back home to watch their teams in action.
Near the end of the day’s events many invited guests and speakers were available to witness first-hand the excitement at poolside prior to the start of the banquet and award presentation program.  That evening a total of 1008 were seated for dinner and another 50 spectators were on hand to witness the festivities at the Payne Center, a 50% increase over last year in Indianapolis, IN.  Mistress of Ceremonies, Susan Nelson, began the program by making a special presentation of an Award for Distinguished Service, which was presented to Candida Desjardins, Program Manager, Educational Outreach, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport, in recognition of her outstanding service to the SeaPerch Program. 
CAPT Robert E. Palisin, II, USN, Assistant Chief of Naval Research, ONR, congratulated the competitors and spoke about the need for students to follow science and engineering as a career. 
Nelson introduced the person who started it all, Kelly Cooper, Program Officer, Sea Warfare and Weapons Department, ONR, who congratulated all of the teams and encouraged them to continue their studies in STEM subjects.  The keynote speaker was RADM Brian Brown, Commander, Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Command.
His 2500 engineers are involved in data collection and high performance computer systems that generate predictive models important to the Navy’s strategic operations. 
Admiral Brown emphasized that communication is a critical part of science and expressing one’s ideas is important to scientific discovery, research and engineering development, and added that he felt at ease knowing that many of the student competitors in the audience today would become tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.


2014 National SeaPerch Champions

Gulf Coast Contenders Club
Saucier, MS

First runner-up
Charleston, SC

Second runner-up
Egg Harbor Township, NJ

Team    Time or Points

First Place – Obstacle Course   

Middle School
Red October    0:41.63
Newburgh, IN

High School
Gulf Coast Contenders Club    0:44.75
Saucier, MS

Open Class    0:43.00
Bloomington North Barbarians
Bloomington, IN

First Place – Heist Challenge   

Middle School
Cynthia Heights Acro    4:57.33
Evansville, IN

High School
Gulf Coast Contenders Club    2:53.27
Saucier, MS

Open Class
Team Ageir    3:37.92
Gloucester, VA

First Place - Poster Presentation   

Middle School
Neptune’s Nemesis    81
Gambrills, MD

High School
NZ Time Ruku    85
Nelson NZ

Open Class
Outside-the-Box    80
Manassas, VA

First Place – All Events   

Middle School
Submersibles    9
Egg Harbor Township, NJ

High School
Gulf Coast Contenders Club    5
Saucier, MS

Open Class
Bloomington North Barbarians    6
Bloomington, IN

Two special awards were also made to student teams this year.  The Creativity Award, given to the team that demonstrated multiple unique design elements, was presented to Team Outside-the-Box from Manassas, VA.  The Engineering Excellence Award, demonstrating an innovative technical approach and execution, was presented to Team CPS TigerBots from Hanover, MD.

(As published in the July 2014 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News - http://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeReporter)

Maritime Reporter Magazine, page 57,  Jul 2014

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