Remote controllers: Tinker mentors help students build underwater vehicles

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Students from Carl Albert Middle School's Starbase program, and their mentors from Tinker, met at the Midwest City YMCA swimming pool last week to test their SeaPerch projects.

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program in which students, with the assistance of their mentors, build an underwater remotely operated vehicle.
Students are given the opportunity to learn Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics (STEM) concepts like problem solving, reading technical instruction and team building.

Starbase Director Pam Kirk said this is the third year of the Starbase 2.0 Club, an after-school program that teams students with engineers from Tinker. The program is Department of Defense funded and is currently in 40 states, with Oklahoma having the largest program in the nation. SeaPerch is just one project they will complete. They have previously completed a project with Legos and will next be working with rockets.

"We are so thankful to Tinker and all the supervisors who allow their employees to come out to help these kids," Ms. Kirk said. "It does take a time commitment. This is truly an investment in the kids as well as the community. It is a very exciting program."

Sean Kerstetter, an engineer with Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Propulsion Sustainment Division, has been mentoring the Starbase program all three years and said he really enjoys the experience of teaching the teens. One of the students on his team, Isiah Murdock, has a grandfather working at Tinker, James Murdock. Isiah takes advanced Algebra classes and said building the SeaPerch was easy.

Rhett Butler, with the AFLCMC E3-AWACS Division, had the opportunity to mentor an all-female team. "I learned a lot from them, too," he said. "Sometimes they are quicker to catch on than their male counterparts." His team -- Elexis Speers, 13; Hayley Allen, 14; and Sophia Smith, 13 -- are all musically inclined and play in the orchestra. Of the three, Hayley has aspirations to be a geneticist because she thinks there are not enough genetics doctors. She has a genetic disorder herself so she understands the importance of the science.

Lisa Wood was there to support son, Hunter. She said he loves math and science and he gets a lot of homework help from older sister, Rachel. Hunter's team had some trouble with their SeaPerch and couldn't participate in friendly competition with the other teams. In fact, a few teams had technical errors. "You just learned one more thing that didn't work and that is part of learning," said Aruna Abhayagoonawardhana, an engineer with Civil Engineering.

The end competition had the teams maneuvering their ROVs through underwater obstacles in a race. Cailet Lively, who was on Mr. Kerstetter's team, was very excited that their team won first place. Interestingly enough, she is also musical and plays flute, piano, clarinet and she sings. "I love mechanical engineering. I love having something to do with my hands" she said.