STEM: SeaPerch Underwater Robotic Championships

By Marine Technology Reporter

U. of Southern Mississippi site for Fourth National SeaPerch Challenge  – Underwater Robotic Championships –

Excitement continues to build for the Fourth Annual National SeaPerch Challenge, as 2014 will see the largest group of SeaPerch competitors ever to assemble and compete for the title of National Champion.
Hosted by the Mississippi Regional SeaPerch Committee, this year’s national competition will be held at the University of Southern Mississippi (Southern Miss) in Hattiesburg, MS, on Saturday May 17, 2014.
Here, more than 100 middle and high school teams from all over the country will come together for a weekend of learning, sharing, competing and fun. The teams scheduled to be in Mississippi have earned the right to compete against their peers on the national stage by winning at the regional level.
Registered participants and spectators will be treated to the “college experience,” as the entire weekend’s activities, including Friday night’s ice cream cocial and Saturday’s in-pool and poster competition events as well as the awards Banquet, dorm room accommodations and meals through Sunday morning, will be available for all on the picturesque Southern Miss. campus.

What is SeaPerch?

SeaPerch is the innovative K-12 underwater robotics program, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and managed by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation (AUVSIF), that trains teachers and group leaders to inspire their students to build their own Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) following an academic curriculum consistent with national learning standards supporting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects with a marine engineering-based theme. 

The program promotes hands-on learning of engineering and scientific concepts, problem solving, teamwork and critical thinking, and introduces students to potential and rewarding career opportunities in naval architecture, marine, ocean and naval engineering.  “With guidance afforded by AUVSIF and with ONR’s commitment to SeaPerch, we have grown exponentially, reaching more than 153,000 students to date,” said Susan Nelson, Executive Director of SeaPerch.  Currently more than 12,200 teachers and mentors are committed to supporting student learning through this stimulating and fun hands-on activity and to promoting student discovery and excitement of STEM subjects leading to a potential future career path. The program reaches a diverse population, and participants in the National Challenge frequently include students from inner city Baltimore to rural Mississippi to Native American reservations in Minnesota to the islands of Hawaii, all of whom have now been introduced to STEM though SeaPerch. This year, there may even be the first international team coming from New Zealand to compete.

The weekend starts beginning on Friday, May 16, when arriving teams check into their dorm rooms before heading to registration, where they will check in and submit their ROVs for a compliance review.  For those vehicles requiring adjustments and/or repairs, a triage station with spare parts and tools will be available.  Following dinner at the student dining hall, teams will be treated that evening to an ice cream sSocial where students from across the country can meet, mingle and compare their design enhancements and innovations.  All student participants will receive National SeaPerch Challenge t-shirts and giveaway bags with items contributed by the SeaPerch program, corporate sponsors and the Mississippi hosts.

Competition day, Saturday, May 17, will begin at the university’s Natatorium with the continuation of registration check-in and compliance reviews, for those not completing their inspection on Friday night. The opening ceremony, featuring a number of relevant speakers, will be accompanied by photographers, videographers and local media. Again this year, live streaming of the day’s competition events will be provided via the SeaPerch website for the benefit of fellow classmates, parents and friends back home to follow the action.

This year teams may consist of a minimum of one student and one adult leader, and there is no restriction on the maximum number of students that can participate on a team.  A juried poster competition is planned for the middle and high school teams to introduce their designs through graphic displays, to deliver oral presentations about their design philosophy and construction challenges and to answer questions posed by the judges. The in-pool technical competition events will consist of a submerged obstacle course, and an entirely new event, called the “Heist Challenge.” 
Specifications for both underwater events were posted on the SeaPerch website,, for teams to construct their own events for practice prior to the national competition.  Nearly 100 judges and volunteers are also anticipated to attend during the day in order to adequately oversee the multiple poster presentation and in-pool competitions as well as ensure a rewarding and memorable day for all. 

On Saturday evening the gala awards banquet will take place in the Payne Center on campus where presentations of first-through-third place trophies in each event for middle school, high school and open classes will be awarded, and the SeaPerch National Champions will be revealed.  In addition to more than 500 student team members and their leaders, classmates, parents, friends, volunteers, judges, invited guests, speakers and committee members will comprise the anticipated total of nearly 800 attendees.  Invited speakers, representing corporate sponsors, local and state congressional representatives, ONR, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and other military branch personnel, will be invited to observe the day’s activities.  All will be encouraged to arrive early, to observe the competitions, judge various events and speak first hand with the students before addressing them that evening at the banquet about the importance of STEM to their future careers. All student team members will receive participation medals, and be photographed by team for the benefit of their families and schools.

Sunday, May 18, will be a free day for the teams to explore on their own the rich cultural history and outdoor activities including parks, historic sites and museums in the greater Hattiesburg, Mississippi area.
Sponsorship opportunities are still available for individual, local and corporate funding, details of which are posted on the SeaPerch website.  Also, judges and volunteers are always welcome.  Should you be interested in participating as a volunteer or judge on May 17, contact Cheri Koch at 
Certificates of Participation are available both for student participants and for teachers and advisors to download following the National Challenge.

For news and updates concerning the National Challenge, please visit the SeaPerch website,, and for questions please contact Susan Nelson, Executive Director, at

(As published in the April 2014 edition of Marine Technology Reporter -

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