PENSACOLA, Florida —
Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) scientists and engineers partnered with academia March 8 and challenged students to a regional SeaPerch competition at the University of West Florida. Students at this year’s event prepared their remotely operated vehicles (ROV) to compete by navigating through an obstacle and a challenge course.
Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and Embry-Riddle University the SeaPerch program provides students with kits equipped with all essential parts to build an underwater robot.
“Basically, it’s an underwater ROV built out of PVC pipes, Direct Current motors and a control box,” said Kinsey Taylor, NSWC PCD electrical engineer and SeaPerch course designer.
Dan Flisek, NSWC PCD physicist and technical director for the competition said SeaPerch challenges and regional competitions help provide students with a hands-on approach while learning the STEM disciplines.
“Kids learn better with a hands-on activity like these competitions. SeaPerch is particularly applicable for employees at NSWC PCD because many of the skills that students learn while building the vehicles, are the same skills our scientists and engineers use to build underwater vehicles. This program helps get kids interested in robotics and engineering, which will hopefully put them on the path to becoming future NSWC employees,” said Flisek. “It's like long-range recruiting.”
The Office of Naval Research’s SeaPerch web site reports that STEM programs such as SeaPerch are of national concern.
The U.S. has fallen from 3rd to 17th in the world in the number of college graduates in engineering programs. In the U.S., only 5 percent of science degrees are awarded in engineering, as compared with 50 percent in China. If not addressed, the expected shortage of skilled workers could decrease the U.S.’s global competitiveness and may result in a lack of expertise in mission-critical areas.
According to Halie Cameron, NSWC PCD mechanical engineer and SeaPerch judge, Navy STEM career professionals are partnering with local-area teachers to help mentor and pique students’ STEM-related interests at almost every stage of their education.
“We’re volunteering time after work at local-area schools to support as many STEM-related clubs as possible, from elementary to junior high to the high school level as well,” said Cameron.
Cameron said support for STEM events like SeaPerch were important for multiple reasons.
“Events like SeaPerch encourage young people to think critically, work in teams, and it opens their eyes to some exciting real-world applications of engineering helping to widen the pool of candidates as future Navy STEM career professionals,” said Cameron. “NSWC PCD needs to be a part of nurturing these bright minds because not only are they potential next-generation warfare center employees, but they are the future of our nation’s innovation.”
NSWC PCD STEM Outreach Program Manager Paige George said personally mentoring students was key to academic success.
“Providing students with face to face contact with Navy scientists and engineers helps broaden their understanding of how diverse the STEM disciplines are,” said George.
According to George, out of the 76 teams competing, one high school team and one middle school team will continue on to the National Competition in early June.