SeaPerch: Inspiring The Next Generation

Marine Technology Reporter

LSU Site of Sixth National SeaPerch Challenge – Underwater Robotic Championships; 2016 marks the sixth year of the National SeaPerch Challenge, an underwater robotics competition. 

On Saturday, May 21, the Sixth National SeaPerch Challenge will be held on the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge. More than 200 teams of middle and high school students from across the country, an impressive increase of almost 50 percent over last year, will have earned the right to compete against their peers on the national stage by winning at the regional level. Compare this phenomenal growth with the first National Seaperch Challenge, held six years ago in Philadelphia, where just 187 students in 38 teams participated.
Next month more than 1,500 students, teachers, coaches/chaperones, family, friends, volunteers, judges, invited guests, speakers, and committee members will gather for a weekend of learning, sharing and competition. On the line will be the title of National SeaPerch Champion, additional trophies for all three competition events and an expanded number of special awards. 
Hosted by LSU’s College of Human Sciences & Education, registered participants and spectators will be treated to the “college experience,” enjoying the entire weekend’s activities, including the Friday Night Social, Saturday’s in-pool competition events and the new electronic poster competition. The Awards Ceremony, along with residence hall accommodations and meals through Sunday morning, will be featured for all participants on the university’s picturesque 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). It offers teachers and group leaders the opportunity to inspire their students to build their own Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) 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 over 300,000 students to date,” said Susan Nelson, Executive Director of SeaPerch. Over the years, more than 19,000 teachers and mentors have committed to supporting student learning through this stimulating and fun hands-on activity and to promoting student discovery and excitement about STEM subjects leading to a potential future career path. The program reaches a diverse population, so participants in the National Challenge frequently include students from inner cities to remote rural areas of the country to Native American reservations in Minnesota to the islands of Hawaii, all of whom have now been introduced to STEM though SeaPerch. This year, the organizers welcome teams from Australia, the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico.
Beginning on Friday afternoon, May 20, arriving teams will first check into their assigned rooms in the LSU residence halls and get settled, then head over to registration in the LSU Carl Maddox Field House 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 Resident Dining Hall, teams will participate in the Friday Night Social where students from all over the country and beyond can meet, mingle and compare their design enhancements and innovations as well as their challenges along the way. All participants will receive National SeaPerch Challenge T-shirts and giveaway bags with items contributed by the SeaPerch program and its corporate sponsors.
Competition day, Saturday, May 21, will take place at the LSU Natatorium. 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 although teams averaged six members last year. Susan Nelson will preside over the opening ceremony in the LSU Field House featuring a number of notable speakers and last minute technical instructions for the teams, accompanied by photographers, videographers and local media. Again this year, there will be live streaming of the day’s activities for the benefit of classmates, friends and parents back home.
The in-pool technical competition consists of two events. The first will require students to steer their ROV through the Obstacle Course consisting of five, 18-inch diameter submerged hoops oriented in different planes. Every year, the second in-pool event changes, requiring the students to design their vehicles specifically to meet the designated mission. The second event for 2016, aptly named, “The Challenge,” will test the students’ ability to release three different sized balls from four dispensers on the pool bottom and transport them in a controlled manner either to a submerged container or to a floating pen on the surface as appropriate. Detailed specifications for both underwater events have been posted on the SeaPerch website,, for teams to construct their own events for practice prior to the national competition.
Again this year the third event will provide a chance for the competitors to share their learning, innovations and science understanding through poster displays and presentations. Introduced this year for the first time will be electronic poster judging in advance of the National SeaPerch Challenge. The top 30 teams will be offered an opportunity to present in-person to a panel of judges on competition day. Scores both for the posters and for the presentations will be added to each team’s total points.
Approximately 150 judges and volunteers are also anticipated to attend during the day on Saturday in order to adequately oversee and judge the in-pool competitions, to judge the top posters that will have been selected for in-person presentations during the day and to ensure a rewarding and memorable day for all participants, attendees and guests.
On Saturday evening the Awards Ceremony will take place in the LSU Field House. Here, first-through-third place trophies in each event for middle school, high school and open classes, special awards and the naming of the 2016 National SeaPerch Champions will be made by Susan Nelson, ably assisted by the invited guests who will also be photographed with each winning team. 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 able to take part in the day’s activities. They have been encouraged to arrive early and observe the competitions, judge various events and speak first hand with the students before addressing them that evening 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. Additionally, Certificates of Participation will be available both for student participants and for teachers and advisors to download following the National Challenge. At the conclusion of the award presentations all registrants will enjoy an outdoor Awards Party and Barbeque.
Sunday, May 22, will be a free day for the teams to explore, on their own, the rich cultural history and outdoor activities in the greater Baton Rouge/New Orleans environs including museums, parks and historic sites.
The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. Formed in 2012, CHSE brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state, nation and world. The college is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer eight undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and nearly 1,000 graduate students. The college is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching research and service, and is continually working to improve its programs. Judges and volunteers are always welcome. Should you be interested in participating as a volunteer or judge on Saturday, May 21, please go to the SeaPerch website,, to sign up. Sponsorship opportunities are still available for individual, local and corporate funding, and can be viewed on the SeaPerch website. You may contact Susan Nelson at [email protected] about how to become a sponsor for this event.
(As published in the April 2016 edition of Marine Technology Reporter)
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