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Making a splash with middle school students

By Katie Neal ('03) Office of Communications and External Relations
Jenna Barnes (purple shirt) and her team with their ROV just before they put it to the test.
Jenna Barnes (purple shirt) and her team with their ROV just before they put it to the test.

On most Saturday mornings, the pool in Reynolds Gymnasium is filled with just a few people quietly swimming laps. But on April 28, it was filled with underwater robots built by students at Hanes Magnet School in Winston-Salem, thanks to a partnership with Wake Forest’s Society of Physics Students.

For the past three months, physics students and faculty have visited Hanes weekly to teach sixth through eighth grade students about robotics, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through SeaPerch, a national program sponsored by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, together the students designed and constructed underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).

Rowland Carlson (’15) helps Hanes Magnet School students in the SeaPerch Challenge.

Rowland Carlson (’15) helps Hanes Magnet School students in the SeaPerch Challenge.

“Seeing the students’ enthusiasm experimenting with the robots is wonderful. They’re excited about science and technology,” said Rowland Carlson (’15), a first-year student from Upper Sandusky, Ohio. “I never got the chance to do this as a kid, but they’re getting the chance and they’re taking advantage of it to the fullest extent.”

Four teams tested their ROVs as part of the SeaPerch Challenge. To the casual observer, it looked like they were collecting as many pool rings as possible to accumulate points. In readlity, students put their robots through a series of challenges to demonstrate learned physical concepts, problem solving, teamwork, and technical applications.

The SeaPerch collaboration between Wake Forest and the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools exposes STEM careers and courses of study to students at a young age.

For Jenna Barnes, a sixth grader who is considering a career that combines sports and engineering, the mentorship of Wake Forest students was a highlight of the program.

“We had a problem with our circuit board and Rowland suggested we try something different,” said Barnes. “It was really helpful and fun because he gave my team really good advice we might not have thought of.”

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