Cadet Programs Implement SeaPerch
To Build Interest in STEM Principles
By PETER ATKINSON, Deputy Editor
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) and Navy League Cadet Corps (NLCC) have gotten onboard the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR’s) signature
science, technology, engineering and mathematics
(STEM) program for middle- and high-school students: SeaPerch, a remote-controlled underwater vehicle cadets build and operate themselves.
“We thought it would be a natural for the Sea Cadets,
so we put together [a proposal last August] when we
first met with the ONR folks and said, ‘Hey, we think
we’d like to do this,’ and we gave them the reasons why
we thought it was a perfect fit,” said Henry Nyland,
NSCC deputy director. “It did seem like a natural fit, so
they said, ‘Great, welcome aboard.’”
After working out an agreement with ONR to inte-
grate the SeaPerch program throughout the NSCC and
NLCC, the first two “train-the-trainer” sessions were
conducted — at the Mine Warfare Center in San Diego
in late October and at Naval Undersea Warfare Center
Newport, R.I., Division in November — for the 80
adults who initially will teach participating cadets.
Sea Cadet officials began ordering SeaPerch kits in
December. As of mid-February, nearly all of the initial
batch of 630 kits had been delivered along with most of
the 80 accompanying teacher tool bags, with between 70
and 80 units participating. Using the standard ratio of
three cadets to one SeaPerch kit, the program expects to
reach more than 1,800 cadets in its first year, Nyland said.
“We’re still very much in the beginning phases of
this,” he said. “Most of the units have the boxes stacked
up and are trying to build the SeaPerch into their training schedule. We’re standing by for what happens next.”
The program was created by the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology SeaPerch Grant College Program
in 2003 with the goal of generating interest in underwater
studies, according to the SeaPerch website. It was inspired
by the book, “Build Your Own Underwater Robot and
Other Wet Projects,” by Harry Bohm and Vickie Jensen.
SeaPerch Executive Director Susan Nelson developed
the program as it stands today, sponsored by ONR and
managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle
Systems International Foundation. It is supported by,
among others, the National Defense Education Program,
Naval Sea Systems Command, the Naval Engineering
Education Center, the National Guard, Micron, Raytheon
Corp., Maritime Reporter and Marine News magazines,
Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., the
American Society of Naval Engineers, the Society of Naval
Architects and Marine Engineers, the Center for
Innovation in Ship Design, BAE Systems and Northern
Virginia Community College, according to a report prepared by Marlene Stevens for the SeaPerch website following the November Sea Cadet training session in Newport.
The SeaPerch program teaches underwater robotics,
with a marine engineering theme, through the hands-on
activity of building robots, teaching basic skills in ship
and submarine design, and it encourages participants to
explore naval architecture, marine and ocean engineering concepts independently, Stevens noted. The SeaPerch
curriculum includes discussion of potential careers in
the STEM fields, as well as other related fields of study.
It has become a popular program in many school systems across the country, as part of in-school curricula or
after-school programs. Students learn how to build a
propulsion and electrical system, develop a controller,
investigate density and buoyancy, use tools safely and
work together as a team, according to Nelson.
They also are encouraged to have some fun with the
SeaPerch by modifying their designs to see how fast
they can make the vehicles go, how much weight they
can lift or how deftly they can maneuver through an
obstacle course. This has sparked a burgeoning number of regional and national competitions.
The 2012 National SeaPerch Challenge will be hosted
by the Prince William County Schools on April 11-13 at
the Manassas Park Community Center in Manassas, Va.,
at which up to 80 teams are expected, double the number of the 2011 challenge. It will feature underwater
obstacle course and salvage operation events, but other
competitions include classroom judging for innovative
design, research papers and even logo design.
According to Nelson, during the past five years
more than 60,000 students have participated in a
SeaPerch build, and more than 4,000 teachers and
mentors have been trained.
In 2011, more than 20,000 students built SeaPerch.
The participation of the Sea Cadets ensures the program
will surpass that number in 2012, according to Stevens.
“What better mentors to take the SeaPerch program
forward than these officers, because they are going to be
the best ambassadors I could imagine for the SeaPerch
program,” Nelson said during the Newport Sea Cadet