Fostering STEM with underwater robots 

MVRHS students get a chance to build and compete with remotely operated vehicles. 


Future scientists were busy at work Monday building robots that could plunge into the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA pool. 

Students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) were up at the Y’s Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center to build small, aquatic, remotely operated vehicles, also known as ROVs. 

The hands-on robotics experience, part of the SeaPerch program, was collaboratively hosted by the high school, Martha’s Vineyard Center for Education & Training (MVCET), and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). This is the first time the three came together for this type of event. 

With assistance from teachers, students built the aquatic robots during the morning. And by the afternoon, the battery-powered robots were ready to be tested in the swimming pool. Made waterproof with wax and floatable with foam, the little robots were connected by a tether to a battery and remote. An engine and propellers also allowed them to submerge in the pool. 

At the end, a timed race was held to see which of the robots could complete a predetermined route in the shortest amount of time. The students were focused on maneuvering their robots in the water, cheering or groaning at their results. 

The winning team of students, Cooking with Lipos, completed the route in 34.98 seconds, winning $10 Mocha Mott’s gift certificates. All of the participants were given participation certificates. 

“It’s great,” MVRHS student Owen Kiernan said. “It’s a small event, but it was a lot of fun being here.”

Courtney Daly, who is in charge of diversity outreach and student services at MVCET, said the program was funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Center for Clean Energy, to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among the Island’s youth. 

“It started out as a weekly STEM club, but kind of blossomed into this underwater robotics competition,” Daly said. “We were able to pair with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the science department from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to bring this event to fruition.” 

Part of the grant was also put toward the offshore wind education programs MVCET offers in partnership with Bristol Community College and, most recently, Massachusetts Maritime Academy. 

“It’s all in an effort to drive an interest in young people in STEM-related careers,” Daly said. 

WHOI research engineer Megan Carroll, who is also an MVRHS alumna, was on hand Monday to help foster interest in engineering.

“When I went off to school to study engineering, I actually had no idea what engineering was,” Carroll said. “We’re not really exposed to it here — this was many years ago — you don’t have mentors in your community.” 

Carroll’s career in the sciences was ignited by a field trip to WHOI, where she saw footage of scientists using vehicles to help study the Titanic. 

“It’s something that stuck with me,” she said. “It was very fascinating. Oftentimes when you grow up on Martha’s Vineyard … you really don’t know what’s going on in Woods Hole, and there’s a wealth of science there. I kind of like to represent that with my community. ” 

Carroll began working with students as a way to give back to her community, starting with building the SeaPerch kits with children during the Great Pond Foundation’s weeklong summer camps. She continued STEM education outreach after winning the Martha’s Vineyard Fellowship, which financially supports the education, professional development, and initiatives of Island-based individuals. Carroll won the award in 2019, but then the COVID pandemic hit. The event on Monday was a relaunch of her outreach. 

According to Carroll, a hands-on, team effort was important for developing an interest in the sciences. During her senior year at the University of Vermont, she was in a group project to build a rocket, and received a grant to test it with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

“I got all that hands-on experience working with teams, and I really enjoyed that,” she said. “It’s very similar to this program, too.”

Outside of the robotics lesson, students were also given a chance to talk to Carroll. In particular, students were shown a video of Alvin, a deep-diving submersible vehicle used by Woods Hole scientists to collect data from the ocean floor. 

Carroll hopes her work can foster interests in engineering for students. “I just want to be able to introduce engineering,” she said. “It’s not that scary. It can be fun, and you can apply it in many different ways.”

MVRHS science teachers Natalie Munn and Michael Lavers both felt the hands-on experience was valuable for students. 

“The kids, they do lab work, and they have opportunities to drive their own [science projects], but it’s really wonderful to have these local opportunities that are really, completely hands-on thinking exercises that feel a little more authentic to what science would be like,” Munn said. “If you become a scientist and you work in a lab, you basically do lab work for the entire day. It’s not like the teeny little lab that I run in my class. A chemist … would be doing chemistry for the majority of the day. I sort of love the fostering of hands-on, project-based work that is sometimes fairly unique to the sciences.” 

“I think we lost it a lot during COVID, and I think we’re now trying to get that interest back,” Lavers said. “I think this can help get this started. These kids are going back and talking about it, growing more interest in it.” 

Overall, it turned out to be an enjoyable experience for the participating students. Huck Moore said he particularly liked learning about mechanical engineering in this fashion. 

“What I like the most is getting into mechanical engineering, and not only learning about, but applying to a real-life scenario,” he said, pointing out the miniature ROVs were similar to the Alvin. “This stuff is around where we live, and it’s amazing to see the science behind it.” 

The students making up the Cooking with Lipos team were all considering STEM careers for their futures. Owen wants to study biochemical engineering, Quinlan Slavin wants to study electrical engineering, Huck wants to study chemical engineering, and Sophie Cutrer wants to study forensic chemistry or pathology.


  1. This is cool! I wonder if some day there can be an AI trained pool robot that can detect drowning and set off an alert…

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