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NSWC Dahlgren Division-Mentored Students Shine at Regional SeaPerch Competition

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | May 13, 2016

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - Student-competitors from Dahlgren School displayed another impressive performance at the regional SeaPerch competition April 23 at the University of Mary Washington (UMW), with two of the school's four teams selected to advance to the national competition at Louisiana State University, May 20-21.

 

Dahlgren School has participated in the SeaPerch program for three years, with at least one team advancing to nationals each year.

 

SeaPerch is a Naval Sea Systems Command funded science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outreach that helps young people learn about those subjects - along with several intangible life skills - by building and competing with underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs).

 

What's more, the program is fun, fascinating, and socially relevant to students engaged with ROVs around the pool with their parents, teachers, and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientist and engineer mentors.

 

The students maneuvered their SeaPerch through a series of obstacles and tasks at the competition.

 

What's more, the teams took on perhaps an even more intimidating prospect: brief a panel of judges on the SeaPerch vehicles they designed and built, and respond to panel member questions about their ROV designs.

 

"You have to make sure you find this little quiet place and that you stay focused on your perch and your partner," said Toni, eighth grade, sharing some of the wisdom she learned during the competition about dealing with stress.

 

Dahlgren School teammates Toni and Gary, along with Alexander and Jerod, comprised two of the four teams from across the region in total that advanced from regionals to the national competition.

 

After the regional competitions, the Dahlgren School competitors took time to discuss what they learned about robotics, design and engineering, and teamwork. Here, too, fun was also an essential part of the equation.

 

"The competition was big and exciting," said Alexander. "It was fun because it was multiple teams from multiple schools trying to compete against each other."

 

Alexander and his partner, Jerod, were not particularly great friends when they were first paired together as a SeaPerch team. After several weeks of designing, testing and improving their ROV, however, they had learned a thing or two about teamwork. "Now I think we've got a good bond and we can work well together to figure problems out," Jerod said.

 

Of course, there is no extra "T" in STEM to denote the teamwork required for SeaPerch, but it is a consistent theme among the competitors and a great example of the life skills the program fosters.

 

Ann Doyle, science teacher, was not aware that Alexander and Jerod didn't always see eye-to-eye when the groups were assembled, but was impressed by the maturity shown by both as they worked together to achieve a common goal. "No one complained," she said. "They just opened [the SeaPerch kit] box and got started. That says a lot about them."

 

Teamwork went on to be an especially critical component of Alexander's and Jerod's success: one of their two motors malfunctioned as they negotiated their final obstacle. Through good communication, they figured out a way to use forward and reverse, in quick succession, to move their SeaPerch the rest of the way for an improvised solution that would impressive any submariner or surface warfare officer. 

 

That teamwork did not just exist internally within each team, but externally-among all the Dahlgren School teams-as well. To prepare for the presentations, the teams took turns presenting their projects and were "graded" by their peers.

 

"Presenting to peers was harder than presenting to the judges, because there were 20 sets of eyes in the room," said Toni.

 

The teams that are advancing are incorporating lessons learned at regionals to prepare.

 

"When Toni and I were going through the ring objective, we noticed our right motor going really slow; it seemed like it was wearing down," said Gary. "After we took it out of the pool, we realized that if we did make it to nationals-we didn't know it at the time-we said we need to get a new motor. At regionals we were already prepping for what we needed to change."

 

If that professional outlook sounds less like a science project and more like a real-life engineering project, it is by design. The goal of SeaPerch is in-part to highlight how classroom subjects come together in the real world, whether the participant decides to pursue a STEM career or not.

 

"Right now I have no clue what I want to be when I grow up-maybe designing houses or an architect or something like that-but after SeaPerch, it makes me want to be something that is maybe more computer-related, with more science," said Danielle.

 

Making that kind of impact on the lives of young people is not just a result of the SeaPerch program, but also the community's support for the students at Dahlgren School. The students, Doyle, and Dahlgren School Principal Dr. Jeff Duncan thanked the many people behind the scenes that played a role in Dahlgren School's impressive showing at regionals, including but not limited to John Wright, mentor and senior engineer at NSWCDD and Liz Kwasniak, manager of the Dahlgren Aquatics Center, where the students practiced.

 

Dr. Duncan said he was proud of all of the competitors and underscored the importance of the program. "We're excited because this is our third year participating, and we continue to find out these amazing things that the students learn," he said.

 

SeaPerch provides students with the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics while building an underwater remotely operated vehicle as part of a science and engineering curriculum. Throughout the project, students learn engineering concepts, problem-solving techniques, teamwork and technical applications, all culminating in an end-of-the-term design competition. This program teaches students how to build an underwater robot, build a propulsion system, develop a controller, and investigate weight and buoyancy.