Robertsdale High School’s 1st SeaPerch team brings home special award at international challenge

By Jessica Vaughn
Education Editor
jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/15/22

ROBERTSDALE — Robertsdale High School's first-ever NJROTC SeaPerch team has made school history.The five-member unit, consisting of Cadets Gavin Brannon, Victoria Burkhardt, David McCarn, …

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Robertsdale High School’s 1st SeaPerch team brings home special award at international challenge

Pictured here, RHS SeaPerch cadets, from left, Gavin Brannon, Bryce Simmons, Victoria Burkhardt, David McCarn and Austin Prather hoist the Resiliency and Grit Award at the SeaPerch International Challenge. The award is just one of five special awards presented at the event.
Pictured here, RHS SeaPerch cadets, from left, Gavin Brannon, Bryce Simmons, Victoria Burkhardt, David McCarn and Austin Prather hoist the Resiliency and Grit Award at the SeaPerch International Challenge. The award is just one of five special awards presented at the event.
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ROBERTSDALE — Robertsdale High School's first-ever NJROTC SeaPerch team has made school history.
The five-member unit, consisting of Cadets Gavin Brannon, Victoria Burkhardt, David McCarn, Austin Prather and Bryce Simmons and led by First Sgt. Charles Aguilar, returned home with the Resiliency and Grit Award in tow after competing in the Seaperch International Challenge on Saturday, June 4, on the University of Maryland campus in College Park.
The road to the special award was filled with teamwork in the face of adversity.
"We had an unexpected problem," Burkhardt, SeaPerch team leader, recalled. "Our robot's buoyancy wouldn't work that well."
SeaPerch involves cadets building an underwater remotely operated vehicle. The program opens the door for students to learn about robotics, engineering, science and mathematics as they work together to build their underwater ROV. It combines basic engineering, design and science concepts into a hands-on project that allows students to use critical thinking skills, collaboration and creativity.

During SeaPerch challenges, cadets put their ROVs to the test in two timed events; navigating it through an obstacle course and later moving batteries from a floating platform to a docking station.
When the RHS cadets realized there was a problem, they immediately put their heads together to find a solution.
"They nominated us for an award called the Resiliency and Grit Award, which means to overcome an obstacle," Burkhardt said. "There's only five special awards given out, and we got one of them."
In total, 137 teams from 25 states and nine countries competed in this year's SeaPerch International Challenge. RHS went head-to-head with 58 of those teams.
"It was an honor, I was proud to be there," Burkhardt said. "To see all of the other teams work together and then to see our team come together and work and overcome that obstacle, it was great."
In the days following the competition, the team members hit the streets of the Capitol to explore and visit landmarks and museums. Burkhardt said the National Museum of the Marine Corps was her favorite museum, while her teammate Simmons said choosing just one was a difficult task. For him, the entire experience was one he hadn't expected.
"My biggest takeaway from all this is going to internationals," he said. "I'm not really used to doing all this, and then I actually sign up and started getting into doing it all, and then suddenly I'm going to Washington D.C. I don't know how it happened, but it did."
One thing's for sure — the team isn't waiting around to get started on planning for next year.
RHS competed in the High School Stock Class division this time but plans to compete in Open Class next year with an all-new ROV designed by using the lessons learned from this go-round.
"We're hoping to build a new machine, and we're hoping to make it smaller and faster so that it can go through the obstacle course better," Burkhardt said.
"We built the machine here then went to Biloxi to compete and took third place," Aguilar said when recounting the season. "While we were there, the cadets talked to the other students, asking how they won, what did they do differently, and they took that knowledge and went to Dauphin Island to compete and came in first. They kept trying to come up with creative ways to win, so when we got to internationals they went to different teams and asked, 'Hey, what's working? What's not?' All the kids love talking about their robots, so all our cadets came back with great ideas on how we can win next year."
"We appreciate our leadership. Without them, none of this would be possible. We just admire and respect them," said Paige Kranz, Burkhardt's grandmother and ROTC parent. "Our kids are so blessed to have this opportunity, and I encourage the parents to be involved because it's a lot of fun to see the kids grow emotionally and intellectually. I'm very proud."
The idea to build Robertsdale High School's inaugural SeaPerch team was born at the start of the school year. With more cadets seeing what SeaPerch is all about, the unit plans to add a second team to the roster for the 2022-2023 school year. Team members can have one main job or multiple roles. Jobs include driving the robots, navigation, maintenance, essay writing, team promotion, research and development and more.
For cadets considering SeaPerch, Simmons said they should be prepared for compromises, as the program requires a lot of teamwork to succeed.
Burkhardt said interested newcomers shouldn't be afraid to try out.
"Don't be scared to try something new," she said. "As a freshman who went up in numbers, starting from down here and going all the way up here was just crazy. So don't be scared. It's going to be all right; you're going to make it."

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