Gateway: Living

‘The Flaming International Narwhals’ take STEM competition by storm

Gig Harbor High School STEM Club members, from left, Anthony “Tony” Schmidt, Josiah “Joe” Babin and Mercedes Newton of Peninsula High School demonstrate the complexity of wiring for the team’s Remotely Operated Vehicle — funding for which was provided by a grant from Peninsula Schools Education Foundation.
Gig Harbor High School STEM Club members, from left, Anthony “Tony” Schmidt, Josiah “Joe” Babin and Mercedes Newton of Peninsula High School demonstrate the complexity of wiring for the team’s Remotely Operated Vehicle — funding for which was provided by a grant from Peninsula Schools Education Foundation. Special to the Gateway

Weeks ago, Peninsula Schools Education Foundation fellow Board member Patricia Scott and I visited members of Gig Harbor High School’s STEM Club. Main purpose: Get information and photos covering use of PSEF grant monies for our website. I saw it also as a Kids’ Corner opportunity.

The team competed in the 2017 MATE ROV competition at Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way on May 13. Each competing group registered as a made up company. GHHS’ company name is “The Flaming International Narwhals.”

“I’m currently in STEM Club because I was always interested in the STEM field but didn’t know how to get the opportunity to experience it,” Renee Seguban said. “I love this club because it gives me that opportunity!”

Nicholas Land joined STEM club because he “wanted to apply what I learned in class to projects I can compete in competitions with. Also to connect with other students interested in technology.”

Diego Opalka joined his friends in the STEM club because “we used to work together in middle school for similar projects. In the club, I learned to have fun making things and the advances in 3-D printing. From these experiences, I have decided to try and major in Computer Engineering.”

Senior Jon Gabriel joined STEM Club to learn more about technology fields and how to use the newest tech tools.

“I also wanted to hone my leadership skills,” said Gabriel, who will attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and major in aerospace engineering next year.

About a month before May’s competition, Peninsula High School junior Mercedes Newton said, “I am the only girl presently on the GHHS team as well as the only person from PHS.”

She explained that ROV stands for Remotely Operated Vehicles and refers to the underwater machines that run by remote and are used to uncover shipwrecks, contain oil spills and explore the many undiscovered places in oceans around the world.

“I first started getting involved in the ROV program at Harbor Ridge Middle School in sixth grade,” said Newton. “I continued to compete for all of my middle school years, and planned to come back during high school to work in the Harbor Ridge club because PHS does not have an ROV club. Shortly after I left middle school, the ROV club was dropped. I was pretty upset about it.”

In March, while volunteering at a science and math career expo for middle school girls called CAPE at HRMS, Newton met Tony Schmidt and Joe Babin and was beyond thrilled that Gig Harbor High School had an ROV program.

“Even though I soon learned I’d be different being a girl and from a different school, I now feel I fit in very well,” she said. “I am excited for the May competition. This club is a wonderful group of kind, creative and nothing short of extremely intelligent students. I’m very proud to be a Flaming International Narwhal.”

Team captain Anthony Schmidt got into ROV on a road trip with his friends in eighth grade.

“My pal Nick says to me, ‘Hey, you should join ROV.’ He went on to explain why and I bit the hook,” Schmidt said. “In ninth grade, I joined with my friend, Joe Babin. We had a great time making a BOT then competing.”

The day of the competition, Schmidt wrote, “This year, I’m a junior, and typing this at 0530. I have 30 minutes before I jump in my car full of the entire ROV and equipment then pick two people up, after which, straight shot to Federal Way. If I had to sum up how I feel about this competition in one word, I’d say ‘anxious’ is it. We have a BOT that works, we have a poster-board and presentation prepared. Yet I’m anxious. What if the ROV gets disqualified? What if we don’t do well? As team captain, that’s something I must carry; I will be held accountable for it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited. Every year I’ve done this I’ve had a good time. I’ve met incredible people like professors, engineers, scientists of varying degrees, and of course other teams competing against us. So I’m anxious. Excited and nervous. In a good way, though. We will do our best to get a win for Gig Harbor. If we don’t, it will be OK because we got to compete.”

Team member Austin Blackwell asked, “because of the ongoing struggle of finding enough time to write this important document and finishing my even more important assignments from school,” that he be permitted to contribute to this story after the competition. Granted!

The last day of May, I got together at GHHS with Schmidt, Babin and PHS member Mercedes Newton, all juniors, for a post-competition chat and demonstration of their gear.

They were disappointed but in no way defeated that their equipment didn’t perform as well as they’d expected at the competition. Hey! They made it to the competition!

They demonstrated the equipment and its intricacies to me and explained that, while it performed well, it wasn’t programmed for the extreme depths at which it was required to operate.

“We had no place deep enough here to precisely orient our gear in advance of competition. Our robot performed well until it reached water pressures for which we had no means of programming it. Next year, we will locate a deep enough facility, use it, and make the proper adjustments to our equipment in advance.”

As the ‘Schnoz’ would say, “You ain’t seen nothin’, yet!”

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at hughmcm26@gmail.com.

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