The 2023 University of Southern Mississippi SeaPearch Regional Challenge took place this past Saturday, March 18.
Hosted at the Biloxi Natatorium, the competition featured a great crowd of students and coaches, with schools varying from southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi. SeaPerch is a program that teaches students how to construct their own underwater robots, commonly referred to as Remotely Operated Vehicles or ROVs.”
The purpose of the weekend was to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and simulate ocean exploration in a fun, engaging environment. Teams were judged from a standard three-part rubric which consisted of a mission course, an obstacle course, and an introductory video.
In order to remain relevant in the competition, they had to showcase their ability to apply their knowledge of STEM to real-world problems and simulations.
Before the competition got underway, Megan Gary, the event director, said, “I am just so excited for [the students] because [for most of them] it is their first experience building something from scratch.”
The fact that they were building ROVs that could move through the water was also something that thrilled her because of how relevant it was to the Gulf Coast where they lived. In so many different ways, she added, participants learned teamwork, problem solving, and how to troubleshoot mishaps and figure out next steps despite failure.
“Engineering and Robotics is where everything is going at this point, and so to have skills that are translatable to many different careers opens a huge number of opportunities for students as they grow and enter the workforce,” Gary continued.
As things kicked off at approximately 9:00 a.m., everything started very smoothly. Separated by heats, teams were split to complete the mission course, obstacle course, or presentations at certain time slots.
In between activities, Biloxi High School’s Engineering & Robotics Instructor Anthony Pitts said, “It is important for students to use the skills from the classroom in a competitive setting and use their engineering savvy to really work through problems and challenges that they did not expect so that they can get a understanding of how real engineering goes. Engineers solve problems.”
“Nothing works exactly like you want it to most of the time or anything like you planned, so having an opportunity like this gives them a chance to be creative and come up with solutions in a short amount of time,” Pitts continued.
The reason SeaPerch was so important for Pitts to be part of was because he wanted them to be able to “step out of the classroom and into a setting where they [can] continue to solve problems and overcome fears.”
Just seeing his students experience and enjoy themselves puts a smile on his face.
“I just love watching them get over challenges: ‘Oh, it does not work, what am I going to do,’ and be able to fix it, make it work, and just challenge themselves just like they would in a real world setting.”
The day was a great success. Everyone in attendance had a great time driving the ROVs and meeting people from other local schools.
“I enjoyed spending quality time with my friends while competing,” stated Moss Point High School student Chance Bovastro. “If given the chance, yes I would compete next year. I think our team could have done better, but next time, we will be prepared. Overall, it was a fun first-time experience.”
In the near future, Southern Miss hopes to expand the robotics aspect of the competition and improve it while continuing to ensure the opportunity to compete is available for as many students on the Gulf Coast as possible.The top schools that placed, advanced to qualify for the international competition on May 13 at the University of Maryland.