Bluetech lab

Getting Students Interested in Maritime Science, One Teacher at a Time

By Catherine Trifiletti

Educators from across Massachusetts and Rhode Island convened at MITRE for an underwater robot building workshop and testing in our new BlueTech Lab.

On a Saturday morning in late January, middle and high school science and technology teachers from 13 schools across Massachusetts arrived at MITRE's Bedford campus as curious students. By Sunday afternoon, they left with fully functional underwater robots of their own making in tow.

Instructors from the Marine Technology Society’s MATE ROV Competition set up a makeshift lab and guided teachers through the construction of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) using a variety of materials, from PVC piping to pool noodles. 

Along with contributions from MITRE and MATE, the effort was partially funded through a $2.2 million grant from the state to accelerate maritime innovation and grow the region’s BlueTech workforce. 

The teachers, some in pairs, spent Day 1 building control boxes for their vehicle’s motors and Day 2 engineering and designing its frame. After testing the buoyancy of their ROVs in a water-filled bin, they deployed the prototypes in our recently opened BlueTech Lab. Smiles and high-fives were aplenty as each of the educators reported successful outcomes.

The hope is for teachers to harness that same enthusiasm and bring it back to their respective schools. Interested students, under their teacher’s leadership, are invited to team up and create their own underwater robot to enter in the New England Regional MATE ROV Competition, scheduled for May 11 at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay. Regional contest winners in the RANGER class of the competition will advance to MATE’s World Championship. 

“Teachers are the force multipliers,” says Jody Patterson of MATE. “We want them to learn this process because it serves as a practical application to so much they’re already teaching in the classroom.”

Teachers are the force multipliers. We want them to learn this process because it serves as a practical application to so much they’re already teaching in the classroom.

Jody Patterson, MATE

The Maritime Future is Wide

MITRE and MATE’s push to hook students on maritime technology comes at a time when the need for skilled technologists in the BlueTech space is peaking. The urgency can be attributed to an “ocean revolution,” according to Patterson, who cites climate change, the decline of fisheries, and the overall degradation of our ecosystems as pressing factors. 

The workforce gap spans beyond more high-profile careers of maritime engineers, scientists, biologists, and deep-sea explorers. MITRE’s maritime business operations principal and the event’s organizer Jay Lustig explains: “The Blue economy is going to need mariners to take people out to wind farms, electricians to service those wind farms, people who understand aquaculture and climate, food sustainability experts, and coastal resiliency practitioners.”

From Lab to Sea

Programs and competitions like MATE’s help familiarize students with the value of our oceans and connect the dots from lab to sea in a hands-on way. Scott Foster, a computer science teacher at Dearborn Stem Academy in Roxbury, cites competition as a great motivator for students. He aims to bring tactical capabilities to his classroom through new programming using MATE’s ROV kits. “Having the constraints of the materials in the kit actually make it more creative,” he notes.

MATE and MITRE’s ambitions to invest in the Blue economy’s next-generation workforce align seamlessly. “We’re taking a deep dive into what it means to expose students to ocean sciences and technology,” Patterson says. “Because they’re going to be the ones who innovate solutions to the challenges we face today and tomorrow.”

Learn more about our BlueTech Lab.

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