SeaPerch Program: Subs go swimming

Courtesy photo Potential devotees of STEM, who recently completed through the SeaPerch program the building of nearly 100 remotely operated underwater vehicles, test their ROVs in the pool at UNH, where the approximately 200 eighth-grade builders from HBMS also learned that graduates with STEM degrees in most any field can earn paychecks of $80,000 or more.

The deep of the swimming pool at New Hampshire University in Durham was the bulls eye for 96 kit-built SeaPerch submarines recently constructed by eighth-grade students from Hollis Brookline Middle School.

The remotely operated underwater vehicles were built from scratch. The SeaPerch program kits were supplied for the third year to the school by the Navy through the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, birthplace since colonial days of ships, submarines, aircraft and other defenders.

Hundreds of experts at PNS, in Maine, hold degrees in science, technology, engineering and math – STEM. Several shared their know-how with the students.

Dr. Katrina Hall and Pat Marquette, math teachers at HBMS, helped spearhead the two-day build with around 25 staff members and five parent volunteers. A third day was spent in troubleshooting some balky ROVs.

“There are millions of STEM jobs available and not enough qualified individuals to fill these,” Hall said. “Careers in STEM are growing and STEM-degreed grads tend to be employed quickly with salaries of $80,000-plus, truly not a bad field to be in.”

Bob Thompson, school principal, noted on Feb. 14 that HBMS was the first to pilot SeaPerch to an entire grade level. Programs grace New Hampshire and Maine.

“The program really stimulates their interest in engineering a submarine from components in a kit to a finished and completely submersible and remotely controllable robot,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of trial and error, retracing of steps and learning from failure.”

Nuclear Engineer Roland Marquis, a PNS volunteer, is a native Nashuan currently living in Durham. He graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts. He and other associates from PNS taught the eighth-graders to measure, cut and solder copper filaments to computer chips. Melted wax waterproofed the ROVs.

Marquis said the need is great for those who can perform any of the thousands of critical jobs at PNS.

“We are showing these young people the need for those with technical skills, engineers, welders, and so many more,” Marquis said. “There are people in this school who could be tomorrow’s professionals at Portsmouth.”

Instructor Hall retrieved a roll of insulated cable from one of the submarine kits and said the project introduces STEM activities used in many careers.

“The hope of HBMS participating in the SeaPerch Program has been to spark such an interest in our middle school students that they venture into STEM fields,” Hall said. “There are so many opportunities at the high school level and beyond.”

Thanked with gusto were the PNS pros and the many volunteers. Tim Bergeron, a specialist in the Production Resource Department of PNS, received kudos. Hall said SeaPerch has been a commitment from the PNS that is unique and memorable.

“The students enjoy working with all the volunteers but find it especially exciting to work with a nuclear engineer, Roland Marquis,” Hall added. “We also commend Tara Hicks Johnson, at UNH, who has worked with us to coordinate the use of the pool in Durham.”

“Nothing is more exciting than to see the students using the underwater vehicles that they built,” said Hall. “There are too many smiles to count.”

Potential STEM professional Lindsay Dattis, one of the eighth-graders, completed the project in fine style. She said performing the various steps gave her some insight into STEM possibilities.

“Someday, I hope to become an engineer,” said Lindsay. “This project really helped to broaden my understanding of the field.”

Loretta Jackson may be contacted via email: