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NEWS | April 5, 2022

NSWC Dahlgren Division Employees Support Regional SeaPerch Event

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

On a blustery, cool Saturday outside the YMCA in King George, things were heating up inside for regional underwater robotics teams as they competed for three spots in the international SeaPerch competition Mar. 19.

“SeaPerch is an international STEM program supported by RoboNation. Elementary, middle and high school students in the area get to build and learn about robotic operated,” explained Luis Valcourt-Colon, a software engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and regional coordinator for SeaPerch. “Every year, Dahlgren supports a regional competition. The top placing teams in our region qualify for the international competition, representing the area as a whole.”

RoboNation is a nonprofit organization that works with academic institutions, government agencies like NSWCDD and industry partners to help provide “hands-on educational experiences that empower students to find innovative solutions to global challenges,” according to the group’s website.

Valcourt-Colon coordinates the efforts between local schools and the volunteer-educators at NSWCDD to divulge students to technical rigor and knowledge of unmanned robotic platforms.

“It’s up to the specific school divisions to determine how they want to introduce SeaPerch,” explained NSWCDD Director of Academic Engagement for the Chief Technology Office Michael Clark. Some schools integrate SeaPerch into their classroom curricula so that students have time to work on their rovers during the day, while others introduce the program as an afterschool club. “Some schools really take ahold of it and run with it,” Clark noted with satisfaction. “One school has six teams here today.”

In addition to outreach, Valcourt-Colon achieved an outsized impact with local school districts by organizing ‘teach the teacher’-style sessions.

“There’s a commitment on the school’s end as well,” said Clark. “We are very fortunate to have coordinators within many local schools, who we work with throughout the year to make sure their teams are prepared to compete and be successful.”

The regional event fell into three parts: the obstacle course, the challenge or mission courses and the technical report. In the obstacle course, teams maneuvered their rovers through underwater hoops and back in under 10 minutes. The mission courses challenged teams to move objects from one underwater platform to another.

“These teams go through this R&D [research and development] phase of how they are going to put their rovers together, compete, then give a technical presentation,” said Clark. “What I love about it is this gives students an opportunity to speak in front of an audience about a technical subject which they are passionate about. That can be very difficult to incorporate into the standard school curriculum. It’s not unlike what Dahlgren employees do on the technical side. To think, there are sixth graders here doing that – it’s incredible.”

Local teams are made up of anywhere from two to four students, who work together with their school’s coach to design a unique rover. During the competition, teams are scored based on how well their rovers perform in the courses as well as their technical presentations.

In the regional competition, a team from Orange County High School placed first and a team from Spotsylvania High School ranked second. A team from Collegiate School in Richmond landed in the third spot. All three teams now advance to international competition scheduled for June 4-5 at the University of Maryland.

Special thanks to the following NSWCDD employees for their support and assistance in the regional event: John Busic, Melissa Dudleson, Michael Clark, Luis Valcourt-Colon, Justin Deloatch, Tyler Ferro, Brandon Marine, Michael McClanahan, William David McDermott, Marie Zacarias Morro, Md Muyin, Joshua Reese, Alexa Thomas and Mark Wheeler.