National SeaPerch Challenge at LSU inspires middle and high school students 

800+ middle and high school students compete in underwater robotics championship


Nearly 200 remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) meandered the depths of the LSU Natatorium pool on Saturday, May 21, 2016.

The ROVs, designed and built by middle and high school students, raced through a series of underwater obstacle courses at the National SeaPerch Challenge, the U.S. Navy's signature outreach program. 

A total of 536 boys and 273 girls competed in Saturday’s competition. Those students represented 195 teams from 34 U.S. states, along with Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and South Australia.  

“We are committed to the educational aspect of what we do and strive to light the fire within students to pursue STEM careers. In our own way, we like to think we are helping to change the world,” said Susan Giver Nelson, founder and executive director of the SeaPerch Program, which is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. “Hosting the National SeaPerch Challenge at LSU allowed us the opportunity to give our student participants the college experience – eating in the dining hall, staying in the dorms, walking on campus.  I want them to see themselves in college, and in this case, LSU."

EngineerThese students built their SeaPerches from low-cost, easily accessible supplies such as PVC pipe, then customized their designs to compete in regional and local challenges, vying for a slot at nationals. 

Matthew Jackson, a junior from South Lake High School in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, said SeaPerch has changed his perspective on success.

“SeaPerch has taught me that almost every time you design or create something, it will fail the first time,” he said. “The idea could be revolutionary, but it will take time to perfect. Engineering is not about getting it right every time the first time; it’s about persisting through the journey to success.”

Jackson isn’t the only student inspired by SeaPerch. For many students, the national curriculum has instilled hope and high aspirations through the development of new skills.

Hovhannes Koehler, a sophomore from Michigan, said skills needed for SeaPerch carry over into other aspects of life and build a foundation for future learning. Since involving himself with SeaPerch, Koehler has learned to use engineering software such as AutoCAD, Google Sketch Up, and Makerbot, a leading program for 3D printing.

“In the SeaPerch competition, I have learned many new skills to add to my growing skill set, such as driving the robot and [engineering] design,” he said. “I also have successfully been on a team that went to Nationals, which is a great accomplishment.”

Dr. Bridgette L. Davis, School of Education professor and director of the Gulf Coast Regional SeaPerch Challenge, said the weekend was overwhelmingly fantastic.

“LSU is a land, sea, and space grant university, as well as our state’s flagship university,” she said. “I’m so proud we were able to host this incredible STEM event and showcase all LSU offers in STEM.”

In the LSU School of Education, Davis prepares future science educators. 

The SeaPerch curriculum teaches students about science, technology, engineering, and math. It also provides students with an opportunity to develop 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. SeaPerch is a vehicle for college and career readiness. 



Team "Fresh-Off-the-Perch" represented Alief Early College High School, Houston, Texas. 

This is one of 30 teams from Texas!


Pictured here is Cheri Koch of AUVSI Foundation and Susan Nelson, SeaPerch Executive Director, (in green) and the U.S. Naval Officers who volunteered their time to support SeaPerch. Officers welcomed student participants and posed for team photos.


These students travelled from Hawaii to compete.The National Championship brought together teams from 34 states.


Bianca Acosta, an eighth-grade student at Nolan Ryan Junior High School in Pearland, Texas, said SeaPerch taught her how to give professional interviews, how to be a team leader, and how to think critically to solve problems.

“[SeaPerch] gave me the push I needed to learn about STEM and what it can do in the world,” she said. “I am now ready for whatever I need to do to get where I need to be…a leader, an explorer, an inventor, and an engineer.”



A student operating on his SeaPerch during the competition Saturday. The triage center with spare parts and tools was available for students to make repairs or alter their SeaPerch design. 


Team Sea C.R.A.B. from Alvin, Tx.
Overall Champions of the National SeaPerch Challenge


Pictured here from left to right: Susan Nelson, Director of SeaPerch; Bridgette Davis, Director of Gulf Coast Academy for Science Literacy and LSU School of Education Assistant Professor; Jonathan Lee, YMCA Association Aquatics Director; and Damon Andrew, Dean of LSU College of Human Sciences & Education


“SeaPerch is a way to get students excited about STEM, and learning in general,” Davis said. “I see the same excitement with SeaPerch that I do when children learn to play video games or a new sport. Students are intrigued by this curriculum, suddenly wanting to take in as much information as they can about robotics.”

Aaron Johnson, a teacher at Nolan Ryan Junior High, saw Davis’ words come true in Acosta.

“Participating in SeaPerch has transformed her [Bianca Acosta] from just a student attending school to becoming a student that is involved in school,” Johnson said. “Bianca now takes advanced placement classes in every subject, she has become a student ambassador for her school. She is at school early and stays late every day to help mentor the sixth grade SeaPerch team. She has become a role model through SeaPerch.”

There were three components to the competition. The in-pool technical competition was an obstacle race, where the teams’ drivers guided the SeaPerch through a series of obstacles. The second course required the SeaPerch to retrieve round objects. The challenge changes every year, requiring students to design their vehicles specifically to meet the designated mission. The third event was a poster competition, requiring students to share their learning and science understanding. 


High school

This high school senior chose to attend the National SeaPerch Challenge in lieu of her high school graduation. SeaPerch Director Susan Nelson brought her on stage to recognize her milestone and celebrate with the more than 1,300 people in attendance. Also pictured, LSU President King Alexander.


The Palmas Academy team, from Humaco, Puerto Rico, after their poster presentation

Virgin Islands

The Rays Aquabotics of Ivanna E. Kean High School came from St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands


During the technical challenge, called the Orbs, teams lined the edge of the swimming pool, carefully maneuvering their SeaPerch with remote controls to release balls from specially made containers, then collecting the balls with the SeaPerch. Every SeaPerch is unique, as the students can alter its design in any way. Competing in the Orbs challenge tested the SeaPerch design and the students’ operations skills. Students had to be aware of factors such as speed, thrust, buoyancy, and ballast.

carson an mathews

Future Astronaut Alyssa Carson and LSU School of Education Director Neil Mathews.

Keynote speakers throughout the weekend event included:

  • Deputy Commander of Naval Meteorology & Oceanography Command Dr. William Burnett
  • 13-year-old Future Astronaut Alyssa Carson
  • Office of Naval Research Program Officer Kelly B. Cooper
  • SeaPerch Executive Director Susan Nelson
  • ExxonMobil Lead Execution Engineer Brittany White

Speakers from LSU:

  • LSU President F. King Alexander
  • College of Human Sciences & Education Dean Damon Andrew
  • School of Education Director Neil Mathews
  • LSU Vice President of Research & Economic Development Kalliat T. Valsaraj.

The National SeaPerch Challenge culminated with an awards ceremony Saturday evening, honoring the winners of the poster presentations and underwater challenges.

2016 Results

Special Awards
Presented by Office of Naval Research Program Officer Kelly B. Cooper

  • Creativity Award for Unique Design & Strategy  |  Neptune’s Nemesis from The Academy of Learning, Gambrills, Md.
  • Quality Award for Robustness  |   Mantis Shrimp from Lacey Township High School, Lanoka Harbor, Nj.
  • Admiral Mooney Deep Ocean Exploration Pioneer Award  |  Mighty CavBots from South Lake High School, Saint Clair Shores,  Mi.
  • Against All Odds Award  |  Team Nautilus from Manvel High School, Manvel, Tx.

Noteworthy Honorable Mentions

  • The HMS SeaBots: King Magikarps from Harrington Middle School, Mt. Laurel, Nj.
  • The IDKs from R.T. Milwee Middle School, Apopka, Fl.
  • The Killer Whales from Jo Ann Ford Elementary, Georgetown, Tx.
  • The M.C. Tech Sirens from 4-H - UA Cooperative Extension Service, Little Rock, Ar.
  • ROV Raptors Optimizing Vectors from Academic Magnet High School, North Charleston, Sc. for going through five design iterations 

We would like to give a special thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who made this event possible, including individuals, organizations, and the 65 virtual poster judges from around the world.

The event came to fruition with the help and sponsorship of many organizations, including:

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation (AUVSIF)
American Society of Naval Engineering
CEI Fabricators, Inc.
Center for Innovation in Ship Design 
Council of Information Services
DS SolidWorks
East Baton Rouge Sherriff’s Office
Florida State University 
Harbor Diving Services of Gulf Shores, Alabama
International Community for Maritime & Ocean Professionals,
Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office
LSU College of Science
LSU Office of Academic Affairs


Maritime Reporter and Engineering News
Navy League STEM Institute
Navy League of the United States
NAVSEA Panama City
NAVSEA Newport
National Defense Education Program
National SeaPerch leadership team
Office of Naval Research (ONR)
Pelagic Dive Charters
Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers
Underwater Adventures, LLC
U.S. Navy League STEM
U.S. Navy Recruit Command and Diversity Office






South Australia








Winners of Open Class







About SeaPerch

SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle. SeaPerch is a K-12 Educational Outreach program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and managed by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Foundation (AUVSIF). It is one of the Navy’s signature outreach programs. Since its inception in 2007, more than 300,000 students and 17,000 teachers and mentors have participated garnering 4.5 million contact hours. About 80 percent of the students report an interest in a STEM career after participating in SeaPerch. The SeaPerch program has been has been offered in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. It is also offered in 10 countries.

Visit SeaPerch at

About LSU School of Education

The LSU School of Education, or SOE, offers graduate and undergraduate programs in curriculum and instruction and in educational leadership, research and counseling. The school’s mission is to prepare P-12 educational professionals to be leaders, practitioners and scholars knowledgeable in contemporary educational issues.

Visit the School of Education at

About CHSE

The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Leadership and Human Resource Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer 8 undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The College is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs.

Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education at