‘We Are Representing Wisconsin’

Washington Island students prepare for international SeaPerch competition

Having taken the top three spots at the SeaPerch regional competition in Green Bay on April 1, Washington Island teams are preparing for the May 13 international competition at the University of Maryland.

Washington Island sent four teams to the regional competition, and three – Team Flounder, Team Sea Angels and Team Moby – took first through third place, respectively.

“I was in shock,” said seventh-grade student Jay Nickchen of Team Sea Angels. “Being on Washington Island, and with past experience in SeaPerch, I never expected to get this far.”

SeaPerch is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program that “guides participants through a real-world engineering and design project centered around building an underwater ROV [remotely operated vehicle],” according to its website. 

SeaPerch students practice for competition using the pool at the Washington Island Rec Center. Submitted.

Students began working on their ROVs in mid-November 2022, and since then, SeaPerch co-advisers Miranda Dahlke, a Washington Island middle school math teacher; and Matt Sullivan, a tech ed teacher, have remained as hands off as possible.

“We’re just the coaches and overseers at this point,” Dahlke said. “There’s enough experience with the kids on the teams, and enough in the directions. They figure it out and default to us only if it’s something that they literally can’t figure out, like if there is an issue with the soldering iron.”

The Door County Maritime Museum (DCMM) first approached Washington Island School for the 2018-19 school year to see whether its students and staff wanted to try the program. Since then, DCMM has sponsored the school by purchasing the kits that students need to build their ROVs, plus a few extra in case parts need to be replaced.

“They’ve been awesome supporting the program, and continuing to support the program, because our kids now are asking for it,” Dahlke said.

Most students competing this year have participated previously, and for some, this is potentially their last year to compete. No plans have been made yet, but Dahlke is looking at ways to continue robotics education into high school for these students.

SeaPerch students learn about soldering from tech-ed teacher Matt Sullivan. Submitted.

“I’ve kind of always wanted to have a career in STEM,” said eighth-grade student Julia Pratt, who’ll enter high school next year. “This [SeaPerch] has definitely helped me learn more about that.”

There is still plenty of time for these young minds to figure out what comes after high school, and until then, they’re focused on the international competition. 

When asked what they’re most looking forward to, all of the students expressed excitement about meeting other students from around the world. Teams from last year befriended students from New Zealand, and this year, the organizers of SeaPerch have planned some recreational opportunities where the participants can mingle – which didn’t happen during the pandemic years. 

Washington Island placed 14th overall in the international competition last year, and the students are hoping to beat that outcome this year.

“We are representing Wisconsin, not just Door County,” Dahlke said.

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