Students from across the Cayman Islands will showcase their STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — skills at the 2021 Cayman Islands SeaPerch Challenge, an underwater robotics competition in which youths put their engineering, problem solving, teamwork and technical skills to the test.

Cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the SeaPerch Challenge returns to the Camana Bay pool on 13 March. Glenda McTaggart, Dart's senior manager of education programmes, said she's looking forward to seeing the robots back in the water.

“After an unprecedented year that affected several of our Minds Inspired programmes, we are looking forward to reuniting with the students for this highly anticipated event,” McTaggart said. “The SeaPerch Challenge helps students learn the engineering process and provides them with hands-on experience as they design, build and fine-tune their remotely operated vehicles for competition. The students then apply these skills, connecting classroom learning with real-world technology and careers in marine engineering and naval design.”

Originally brought to the Cayman Islands in 2016 by the Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association, the annual event is now in its sixth year. Twenty-four teams from nine schools across Cayman are expected to compete in this year’s challenge, which includes a timed obstacle course, a mission course requiring a "waterway clean-up" that entails disarming an imitation active naval mine, opening and closing an underwater disposal vault, and collecting and disposing of various floating and sunken debris.

Many local schools include the SeaPerch Challenge as part of their classroom and extracurricular activities that give students multiple opportunities to learn and apply STEM concepts. Students often know they want to go into engineering, but don’t know what type of engineering they are really interested in. SeaPerch guides participants through a real-world engineering and design project, using hands-on methods to introduce concepts such as propulsion, buoyancy and electrical systems.

“The goal of Minds Inspired’s programmes is to excite and engage Cayman’s students with STEM subjects and introduce them to career options in STEM fields," said McTaggart. "SeaPerch is a unique opportunity for Cayman because as a seafaring country, we have careers in marine engineering where people use the skills that are taught in SeaPerch."

The Cayman Islands SeaPerch Challenge is presented by Dart Minds Inspired in collaboration with Maples Group, and Women’s International Shipping and Trade Association. The winning team in each division — middle school and high school — will represent the Cayman Islands at the International SeaPerch Challenge.

This article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of the Camana Bay Times.