SeaPerch program gets youngsters involved in underwater robotics

SeaPerch program gets youngsters involved in underwater robotics Santiago Ospina, left, controls an underwater remotely operated vehicle during the Sea Perch and STEM program

PANAMA CITY BEACH - U.S. Naval Sea Cadets from five states spent last week at Naval Support Activity Panama City participating in an underwater robotics program called SeaPerch.

The program was created by the MIT SeaPerch Grant College Program in 2003 to generate interest in underwater studies and train teachers and students how to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Tom Klomps, regional director of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps, said the Office of Naval Research's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program is using the SeaPerch program to encourage STEM excitement in today's youth.

"We want students to pursue those courses in school and go on to college because the Navy needs people with those strengths to help man facilities like these and to be the engineers and physicists and everything else that's going to keep our country as strong as it is," Klomps said.

He also said, "The SeaPerch program is not limited to Naval Cadets; anyone who is interested can take the training."

The cadets from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and New Jersey spent the week learning about electricity, buoyancy and other STEM related topics from trainers such as Bill Porter, electrical engineer and one of the Science Brothers. They also built, in teams of two, their own customized ROV's.

Porter said he "hopes this program instills a love of engineering and science for the cadets and wants to encourage that locally as well."

"I hope to expand this program more in Panama City and get museums and schools interested so we can hold competitions like this for local students as well," Porter said.

Ed Linsenmeyer, educational outreach coordinator for Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, said he hopes to create a regional competition between naval installations in Pensacola, Panama City and Jacksonville and send winners onto the national competition.

"It's a lot of fun; you get separated from the youth a lot of times and discouraged because you don't know who's going to be taking over," Linsenmeyer said. "I've been very impressed by the students who've come through the programs over the last couple of years."

The week culminated in competition Saturday with two underwater courses at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center. The first competition required teams to retrieve colored discs, coin size, from the floor of the pool, gathering as many as they could in two minutes.

The second course required the ROV to retrieve a dive ring, navigate through suspended rings and deposit it and stop the ROV inside the finish ring on the floor of the pool in two minutes. Cadet Quien Tuck came down from Alexander City, Ala. because he was interested in the program's emphasis on technology.

"Technology's taking over the world" Tuck said. "I've learned how to solder, work as a team, how to wire things for electricity. The best part has been making the SeaPerch because Ive never seen a toy go under water."

He also said he plans on taking what he learned back to his unit and sharing the knowledge and interest in STEM subjects with his friends and fellow cadets.

"It's a great opportunity and I think everyone should give it a try," Tuck said. "You meet great people, learn good things; it's a great environment and they make you feel welcome."

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