Recruit Training Command Hosts Regional SeaPerch Competition
By Alan Nunn
Recruit Training Command Public Affairs
A total of 228 students representing 51 teams from 22 schools and organizations participated in the fifth annual Navy Great Lakes SeaPerch Regional Competition April 6, at the USS Indianapolis Combat Training Pool at Recruit Training Command (RTC).
The SeaPerch Program provides students with the opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as well as robotics while building and operating an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Throughout the project, students learn engineering concepts, problem-solving, teamwork and technical applications.
These concepts are critical in developing the future of the Navy.
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The event commenced with opening remarks from Lt. Antoine Washington, who welcomed guests and thanked event co-hosts RTC and the National Museum of the American Sailor (NMAS). Distinguished guests included Mayor of North Chicago Leon Rockingham Jr. and Congressman Brad Schneider from Illinois’ 10th District.
Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Thomas Torrez, was among more than three dozen RTC volunteers at the event. Working at the triage table, Torrez and other Sailors assisted students with broken propellers, structural integrity and other ROV issues.
Torrez said he enjoyed interacting with the students and helping them get their ROVs back in the pool.
“That’s the future, right?” Torrez said. “Having them interested in robotics and seeing how I enjoy it? Maybe I’ll get to see them in the future in the same field making something crazy, because technology is the future for us now. Seeing this type of involvement with it is promising for our future. Seeing them smiling makes me smile.”
Torrez, who is working toward his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer sciences, said he didn’t hesitate to volunteer following his involvement with last year’s SeaPerch event at RTC.
“I’m an electrical engineer, so everything about it interests me,” Torrez said. “That’s why I signed myself on for the triage section, so I can be hands-on with repairing the things that break down and actually keep them going. I know how frustrating it can be when you’re their age, and you’re kind of new at this, and everything’s racing at a fast pace. Having somebody there supporting you, that can get your ROV in and out, that’s what I like doing.”
The U.S. faces a shortage in STEM graduates that may result in a lack of expertise within mission-critical areas. In this backdrop, SeaPerch has grown from its infant stages at Massachusetts Institute of Technology into a national K-12 STEM Outreach Program with backing from The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME). RTC recognizes our global competitiveness lies within the students who will be the scientists and engineers of the future, and strongly believes in sharing the responsibility of developing these students with the community in which they reside.
RTC SeaPerch coordinator Lt. John Blake said this regional competition would not have been possible without the volunteer Sailors.
“Our volunteers play an important role and are critical to making the event a success,” Blake said. “Volunteers from the RTC side have been involved with the overall coordination of the event and making it happen.”
Blake explained this year’s challenge drew inspiration from the events during 2018 the Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand, where a group of students were trapped due to rising water levels. During the SeaPerch challenge, students were required to magnetically activate a beacon, open a trap door, recover sunken canisters, and navigate both vertically and horizontally through a series of underwater hoops.
Capt. Erik Thors, Commanding Officer of RTC, Rep. Schneider and representatives of the Navy League of the United States, Lake County, Illinois Council presented awards to the top three finishers in middle school, high school and open divisions.
“What a great event,” Thors told an audience of more than 300 before the awards presentation. “I wish they had this when I was a kid.”
Event co-sponsors RTC and NMAS thanked the Navy League of the United States, Lake County, Illinois Council; the Society of American Military Engineers, Lake Michigan Post; American Legion McKinlock Post 264, Lake Forest, Illinois and the city of North Chicago for their generous support of this year’s event.
Three teams will advance to the National SeaPerch competition: Señor Bulldogs from Carl Schurz High School, Chicago (1st place high school stock class); Flaming Marshmallows from Leyden High Schools, Franklin Park, Illinois (2nd place high school stock class); and Land Sharks from Stevenson Middle School, Melrose Park, Illinois (1st place middle school stock class).
Megan Auld, a STEM teacher at Stevenson Middle School, said her students were excited to compete at Naval Station Great Lakes.
“There’s a lot of good STEM programs out there, but not a lot of them are competition based,” Auld said. “There’s something about a competition that really gets the kids motivated by this. They’re excited about coming to this location. It’s something they’ve never seen before. Some of our families are military families, but not a lot, so the kids are excited by the opportunity.”
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. More than 35,000 recruits are training annually at RTC and begin their Navy careers.
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