SPS Wins State STEM Grant

SPS Wins State STEM Grant
Posted on 10/23/2019

Suffolk Public Schools has been awarded a $10,000 state competitive grant to expand its student engineering competition -- Sea, Air, Land (SeAL) Challenge. 

The Virginia Department of Education STEM grant funding was available to schools where at least 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. The purpose of the STEM Competition Team Grant Initiative is to increase awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among teachers and students through STEM-related, problem/project-based, team-building activities. 

For two years, Suffolk Public Schools is the host division for the Sea, Air, Land (SeAL) Challenge for middle and high school students. The SeAL Challenge is a program in which teams of middle and high school students design and build robotic vehicles and payloads to compete in underwater, air, or land courses. Each participating school forms teams of interested students. Participating teams have 12 to 16 weeks to design an unmanned vehicle to perform surveillance and payload reconnaissance missions in the challenge of their choice. The student designed robotic systems compete in challenges which mimic missions encountered by the military, national security agencies, and first responders. Each team is paired with an industry mentor to guide them through the design and build process. 

The SeAL Challenge objectives are threefold. The first objective of the program is to provide middle and high school students with the opportunity to solve an engineering challenge within the constraints of time, project specifications, and budget. The second objective is to provide students with an awareness of technical careers that utilize robotics in the Department of Defense, armed forces, and with first responders. The third objective is to offer schools a STEM competition that is free and focuses on ingenuity, creativity, and collaboration. The SeAL Challenge is offered to students as a club or after-school activity. As the host division of the Sea, Air, Land Challenge, Suffolk collaborates with Penn State University in offering this event to other interested divisions in Virginia. There is no registration cost for schools to participate.

After registering, students complete a survey indicating their knowledge and feelings on the robotics and the engineering process. Teams are provided with documents that specify challenge requirements. Next, the teams research robotic solutions and plan a design that stays within a $500 budget. Each team is required to submit a Preliminary Design Review and receive feedback. Once the feedback has been returned, teams may begin ordering parts and building their robotic system. As the teams research and build, they consult with industry mentors. In addition to providing support on the design and build of the robotic system, these mentors provide insight to the students on the academic paths that led to their career choice as well as lesser known career opportunities.

On challenge day, teams have two opportunities to complete tasks in the selected course. Teams are judged on accuracy, ability to maneuver, and time to complete tasks during each of these runs. After an initial course attempt, teams make adjustments to their robotic systems to improve their performance. The SeAL Challenge awards one team at each level for each of the challenge areas (sea, air, and land). Additionally, one team is awarded for their creativity and one team is awarded for their improvement between the morning and afternoon runs. The focus of the challenge is not on winning but rather on the journey and the exposure to STEM careers and experiences. Students complete a post-survey to share knowledge and feelings on the robotics and engineering process after participating in the SeAL Challenge.

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