Rowan Engineering co-hosts SeaPerch competition

Rowan Engineering co-hosts SeaPerch competition

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The U.S. Navy joined more than 40 middle and high school teams from across New Jersey for a day of underwater robotics during the 7th Annual NJ Regional SeaPerch competition at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey on March 9.

SeaPerch, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program coordinated by the Office of Naval Research, challenges students to construct and compete an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle, more commonly known as a robot.

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst under the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was co-host with Rowan University for the New Jersey regional event, as it has been for the past several years.

“NAVAIR realizes the importance of growing our future STEM workforce in order to get the best and brightest minds working in direct support of our sailors and marines,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, director of the NAVAIR Support Equipment and Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment Engineering Department. “We have supported SeaPerch for many years as it is an outstanding program that not only inspires younger generations to get excited about science and engineering but to also think innovatively and work together as a team.”

Each year, students are given a different challenge for their underwater robot to complete, allowing for returning teams to work toward a new goal and new teams to join in easily, said Haidy Oliveira, New Jersey Regional SeaPerch Competition lead and NAWCAD Lakehurst Education Outreach Office representative.

“We try to explain to them it’s almost like they’re creating a mini company and you’re supporting the Navy. We’re asking you to build an underwater robot for us, here are the requirements and here are the challenges,” Oliveira said.

Students compete their underwater robot in an obstacle course and in the yearly task-related challenge. The robots are judged on speed, navigation, finesse, creativity and design.

“It’s a very good introduction to robots and teaching kids to do hands-on things like soldering and using electronics and just learning the basic science and theories about buoyancy and how robots operate. It’s been fun, and I think the students get a lot out of it,” Oliveira said.

Students develop presentation skills by showing their designs to a panel of judges and develop their writing skills by keeping a notebook throughout the design period. Both the notebook and presentation are considered in the scoring process.

NAWCAD Lakehurst engineers and Rowan students volunteer to support the event set-up and judging.

“The program provides meaningful challenges for students and inspires them to look toward careers in the STEM disciplines,” said Dr. Tony Lowman, Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering dean. “Each year, the event becomes more exciting, and we look forward to the opportunity to introduce our College and our University to our state's next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Capt. Muhammad Khan, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst deputy commander and Naval Support Activity Lakehurst commander, presented awards to the winning teams during the afternoon session of the competition.

Thomas E. Harrington Middle School in Mount Laurel (Burlington County) and Lacey High School in Lacey Township (Ocean County) won first place in their respective categories. Second place went to another team from Thomas E. Harrington Middle School and a team from Absegami High School in Galloway Township (Atlantic County).

The top four teams will compete in the International SeaPerch Competition at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, on June 1-2, with the first place middle and high school teams receiving a $400 travel stipend from the Lakehurst Chapter of the Naval Civilian Managers Association.

The SeaPerch competition is one of many programs NAWCAD Lakehurst supports as part of the Department of the Navy’s strategy to actively engage in efforts to improve STEM education in the United States.

NAWCAD Lakehurst supports student tours of its research, development and testing facilities; STEM fairs and competitions; capstone projects at universities; and scholarship programs aimed at increasing student interest in science and engineering at the middle school, high school and college level, Oliveira said. It is also a sponsor of the South Jersey Junior Science Symposium.

“We want to educate students about the different career fields, what engineers and scientists do and the important role they could have as civilian or military members of the workforce,” Oliveira said. “We want to bring awareness to the hundreds of federal labs across the United States and the military bases extending around the world. In New Jersey, we want our students to know they can have a job ‘right in their back yard’ with unimagined opportunities.”