GREAT LAKES, ILL. -- Students from local Midwest schools and youth groups participated in the 2015- 2016 SeaPerch Navy City Outreach Chicago Regional competition at the USS Indianapolis Combat Training Pool at Recruit Training Command (RTC) March 19.

SeaPerch is an underwater robotics program that gives teachers and students the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The event is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and promotes student skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“What we have been doing in the community is providing the tools and supplies to students to build their very own underwater ROV,” Navy city outreach Midwest officer Lt. Cmdr. William Walker said. “The goal is to sponsor STEM development for our young students with these ROVs.”

More than 450 students from over 70 participating schools competed in three ROV categories: vehicle performance, innovative design and oral presentations.Commanding Officer of RTC Capt. Doug Pfeifle and Commanding Officer of Naval Station Great Lakes Capt. James Hawkins were on hand to host and hand out awards to the winning teams

“I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to host this competition for the second consecutive year,” Pfeifle said. “The Navy relies on inspiration, discovery, and innovation to maintain a technological edge against our adversaries. The brilliant young minds whose achievements in STEM have led them here today will be the heart for our nation’s ability to maintain its science and technological superiority.”

The overall grand champions were team Bathscaphe 1 from Pana Sr. High School in Illinois. Bathscaphe1 now have the chance to participate in the National SeaPerch Challenge, which is scheduled to be held May 20-21 at Louisiana State University.

“The biggest prize students receive from the competition is the STEM knowledge they learn along the way,” Walker said. “The top eight teams from our division will go on to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a chance to win at nationals.”

Students form teams of four to five, including an assigned Navy mentor, and use low-cost kits that include the parts, tools and instructions necessary to construct, test and compete with their ROVs.

“Through the whole process, from construction to competition, I’ve learned to think outside of the box,” a student of Neal Math and Science Academy Ebe Figueroa said. “There is so much teamwork involved. Each team has four people, and everyone has their own section they are in charge of. We all have to work together to get things done.”

The SeaPerch curriculum, which includes propulsion, soldering, vectoring, ergonomics, biological sampling and much more, is a way for schools to meet national learning standards in a hands-on and unique method required for their grade level. It also supports diversity in STEM fields by showcasing the possibilities of technical careers to underrepresented STEM populations.

“In Navy city outreach, we have primary stations placed in the largest metropolitan areas around the country,” Walker said. “Each of those areas has very diverse populations. We make sure we are getting into those schools in the metro areas and reaching out to the students in those areas first.”

The Navy has a personal stake in SeaPerch, as maintaining a technological edge is vital in the Navy’s never ending mission to maintain combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

“The U.S. has been falling behind the rest of the world in STEM research and careers,” Walker said. “The Navy has a large number of engineering fields. It’s paramount that we steer students to STEM fields, so we can continue to keep the world’s waterways safe.”

Through programs such as SeaPerch, the Navy is on the frontline of inspiring the country’s future youth to pursue careers in science and engineering by promoting a culture where students look to STEM fields for discovery, inspiration and self-confidence.

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