Shock waves

Shock Waves from Howard County: Asher Howard, Ace McKinnon and Kody O’Brien. Coach was Morgan Howard.

Rebekah Hall, U of A System Division of Agriculture

For Arkansas 4-H’ers, the SeaPerch Challenge is an opportunity to practice their skills in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and work as a team to solve problems.

On March 3, Arkansas 4-H members and students from across the state gathered at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for the 2023 SeaPerch Challenge. At the competition, hosted by Arkansas 4-H and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, junior high and high school student teams steered remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, through two underwater challenge courses. They also completed project workbooks and answered interview questions from judges.

Sixty-one teams from 12 of Arkansas’ 75 counties competed, as well as two teams from Grenada, Mississippi. The overall winning junior, senior and open teams will compete at the International SeaPerch Challenge at the University of Maryland on May 13.

Winning Senior Team:

Turbo Flare 2.0 from Grant County: Gavin McGinley, Gracie McGinley, Riley Raymick and Callen Shaw, with coaches Serena and Brad McGinley

Winning Junior Team:

Shock Waves from Howard County: Asher Howard, Ace McKinnon and Kody O’Brien, with coach Morgan Howard

Winning Open Team:

The Mighty Ducks from Grant County: Jaxson Andrews, Madi Andrews, Luke Douhit, Garrett Key, Priyam Laxmi and Miley McGinley, with coaches Tina Melton and Brad McGinley

CLICK HERE for a list of all SeaPerch winners.

Hope Bragg, extension instructor in 4-H youth development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said the SeaPerch competition “continues to see record growth” as the 4-H’ers’ engineering skills improve.

“Our 4-H youth amaze me with their skills in engineering as their robots become faster and more agile underwater,” Bragg said. “As part of the 4-H STEM program, SeaPerch allows our youth to broaden their experience with technology while realizing the real-world application of ideas they have.”

The 4-H “learning by doing” philosophy provides youth with opportunities for hands-on education in many subjects, including STEM. According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, STEM employment has grown 79 percent since 1990. The SeaPerch Challenge incorporates basic engineering, design and science concepts, and it also challenges students to be creative and collaborative with their teammates, Bragg said.

To construct their submersible robots, teams used more than three dozen parts, including pieces of pool noodles, electrical tape, propellers, batteries, 12-volt motors and PVC pipe. Each team selected two members to steer the robot through two challenge courses. The “mission course,” designed to simulate space exploration, tested how well the ROVs could pick up and move objects. On the obstacle course, competitors navigated their robots through a series of plastic hoops floating at different angles.

Judges at each station evaluated teams’ performances and timed their progress through the courses. Teams were also scored on their technical reports and engineering notebooks for the project, which they submitted in advance. These notebooks contain documentation of the engineering and building process for the ROV.

A panel of judges interviewed teams about their design process, goals for the competition and each team member’s role in the robot’s construction. Judges rated teams based on their organization and creativity, their engineering and design process and presentation delivery during the interview.

Bragg said teams were encouraged to express their unique personalities by dressing up for their presentations to judges.

“I saw 4-H’ers dressed as sea monsters, wearing scuba gear and donning hula skirts,” Bragg said. “These kids made this year’s contest so much fun.”

Rob Roedel, director of corporate communications for the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, said the organization has partnered with the Cooperative Extension Service for decades in efforts to improve the quality of life for Arkansas.

“Working in partnership, the Cooperatives and Arkansas 4-H have increased SeaPerch youth participation by more than 600 percent in five years,” Roedel said. “The SeaPerch program provides an economically efficient STEM-based learning opportunity for students and 4-H members. The program encourages problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, hands-on learning and much more.

“These are skills that are critical in today’s workplace and must be learned, and they can’t all be taught in a classroom,” he said.

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