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Bringing SeaPerch to life: Trine Robotics Club members lead 4-Hers in project

SeaPerchOn Jan. 30, the pool at the YMCA of Steuben County had something moving around that wasn’t one of the regular swimmers.

Students from Steuben County 4-H, under the direction of students from Trine University’s Robotics Club, were testing the SeaPerch underwater robot they had built.

Nathan Scranton, a mechanical engineering major from Bennington, Indiana, said the Trine students met with the 4-Hers twice weekly for about an hour over a month’s time.

“We offered Scratch programming and working on an underwater robot,” Scranton said. “After the first week, the kids’ interests moved to the robot and we mainly just worked on that.”

The SeaPerch program provides kits comprised of low-cost, easily accessible parts, along with curriculum that teaches basic engineering and science concepts.

“We covered safety when using tools, showed them how to wire and solder, and how the connections work,” Scranton said. “We then showed them how to waterproof the motors and circuits to keep the SeaPerch from shorting.”

“Youth use hand tools and power tools to cut PVC pipe and assemble the robot. They were most intrigued by the used of toilet wax to seal some of the components,” said Tami Mosier, 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator for the Purdue Extension in Steuben County.

The youth also programmed the controls that enabled the robot’s underwater movement — vertically and horizontally — using three rotary motors.

“We partnered with the YMCA of Steuben County on the final workshop of the series so that the youth could put their efforts into action,” Mosier said. “They maneuvered around the grab bars in the therapy pool and used the robot to ‘rescue’ or ‘beach’ items found in the pool.”

Mosier said the program began last year when a Trine student studying computer engineering reached out to her about possible volunteer opportunities.

“I try to pair volunteers with a topic of interest that meets the needs of our youth members,” she said. “His techie background was a natural fit to meet some of the STEM needs in which youth in our community wanted to engage.”

The student enjoyed the interactions with the 4-H middle school and high school youth so much that he invited the Trine Robotics Club to run a different series this year, Intro to Robotics.

As a result of the Intro to Robotics course, Mosier said, 4-H gained several new members. She was also pleased that the activity allowed youth the opportunity to work alongside volunteers engaged in their field of interest.

“Approximately 2.4 million STEM jobs will remain unfilled this year, and experiences like Intro to Robotics will increase STEM interest and engagement,” Mosier said. “It is our goal to help prepare young people for future careers, and there will be great availability in STEM fields.”

Photos: Top, from left, Trine University student Nathan Scranton and Steuben County 4-H members Phoenix Baker, Adeline Noyes, Ava Budak and Solomon Baker with the SeaPerch underwater robot, held by Budak. At right, the SeaPerch, controlled by members of Steuben County 4-H, makes its way around the pool at the YMCA of Steuben County.