SeaPerch challenge for middle schoolers

September 8, 2017 By eastern247
Photo: Robotics team tests their submersible

Students from area middle schools are gearing up for the seventh annual SeaPerch Challenge at Eastern Washington University, putting their engineering skills to the test after months of building an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

Thirty-two EWU student volunteers from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) club co-host the event in which roughly 60-80 students from Cheney, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Newport compete. Teams of two or three students will submerge their vehicle into the EWU indoor pool, putting their ROV through a series of tests and obstacles.

“[This competition] takes a lot of critical thinking. I have to give a lot of credit to the kids who compete. They really have to think outside of the box when they’re designing the bot,” said Alex Praggastis, a senior studying mechanical engineering and event coordinator of the EWU ASME student club.

Students will guide their robot through three underwater competitions: an obstacle course through gateways in the pool, a course in which they lift rings off the bottom of the pool and place them in the bucket, and guide their vehicles to place a cap on top of a pylon using an underwater camera.

“This event gives EWU students the opportunity to give back to the community, do service and support their career field,” said Jason Durfee, professor of mechanical engineering and faculty advisor of ASME. “It’s fun for them and gives middle school students a chance to try out something in the STEM field in a supportive and fun environment.”

SeaPerch provides students the opportunity to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics (STEM), while also learning engineering concepts, problem-solving and teamwork. Winners from the competition this weekend will have a chance to compete at the national level.

“There’s nothing more exciting than to see the students overcome challenges and see that glow on their face, like, ‘Wow, I did that.’ It’s a great feeling to know you helped them, at least guided them toward that [accomplishment]. We can’t give them hints, even as much as we want to when they’re doing their obstacle,” Praggastis said. “To see them excel and achieve their goals in each challenge is really rewarding.”

The event kicks off before National Engineering Week, Feb. 19-24.