JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas --
The U.S. Navy Recruiting Command Southwest Region City Outreach Program, in cooperation with Northeast Lakeview College and Navy Recruiting District San Antonio, or NRD-SA, from Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, hosted a regional SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Challenge Competition at Palo Alto College’s Aquatic and Athletic Center Feb. 25.
Twenty-six teams from high schools, home schools and boys’ and girls’ clubs from south and west Texas, as well as Louisiana, competed to advance to the National SeaPerch Championships to be held at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta May 19-20.
The first-place team was Team Think Outside the Box Epsilon from Harmony Science Academy of El Paso, coached by Kassandra Rodriquez. The second-place team was Team Parche of John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, coached by Manuel Gonzalez, while in third place was Team Tiger Sharks of Harmony School of Innovation in El Paso, coached by Maribel Marquez. The top two teams advance to the national competition.
The competition consisted of three evolutions consisting of a poster/notebook presentation and interview, speed obstacle course, and the challenge course.
“This event was important because we were able to unite a diverse group of students from all different backgrounds and educational levels,” said Lt. Diana Tran-Yu, Navy City Outreach Southwest Region officer. “It also built teamwork amongst the students from the construction of their underwater remotely operated vehicles to competing in the regional competition.”
According to Tran-Yu, participating in SeaPerch demonstrates that the students are committed to having a future in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.
“These students will have a great future and with the Navy’s mentorship and guidance, very possibly, some of them will seek service in America’s Navy,” Tran-Yu said.
Earl Bullock, a SeaPerch instructor with Northeast Lakeview College, has been involved with SeaPerch for the past five years.
“We are more inland than some of the other cities and we felt it was important to bring something new to the area since most robotic programs were land-based,” said Bullock, a retired school administrator. “After the seeing the movie ‘Spare Parts,’ it ignited additional interest in getting our middle school and high school students involved with underwater robotics.”
Sebastian Torres of Team Epsilon recalled when Tran-Yu visited his school in January.
“Lt. Tran-Yu shared her whole life story with us; how she joined the Navy and how persistent she was, which really inspired us,” Torres said. “She’s one of the reasons why we came to the competition to demonstration that we are capable of doing something great.”
Tran-Yu first visited Harmony Science Academy in November 2016, expecting only to train 10 educators on SeaPerch, but to her surprise more than 50 were in attendance.
“I received a call from Dal Ali, one of the schools science coordinators, regarding interest in SeaPerch,” Tran-Yu said. “It was beautiful. Some of the attendees were college students who were committed to being SeaPerch coaches.”
According to Tran-Yu, the school specifically asked for a Navy representative to return in January to speak with their students.
“The outreach coordinator informed me that the school wanted their students to know that there is nothing wrong with seeking a career in the Navy or any other military service,” Tran-Yu added. “Additionally, that the culture of those who graduate college in the El Paso area is not to venture outside the city for careers.”
Navy Lt. Chris Laird, operations officer for NRD San Antonio officers programs, said having the youth involved and interested in the STEM fields help sets up Navy recruiting for future success.
“This was not only a great event for STEM awareness but it provided a venue for our recruiters to connect with the youngest and brightest minds in our area,” Laird said. “As judges of the competition, our recruiters were available for the students to ask questions and receive some insight regarding STEM-related careers in the Navy.”
SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, at an in-school or out-of-school setting.
Students build the ROV from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, following a curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine engineering theme. For more information on the SeaPerch Program, visit http://www.seaperch.org.