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Submerged challenge all about 'skill'





A group of sophomores at Victoria High School learned science can be a lot of fun when you've got your hand in it yourself.

On one of the last days of school Monday, Allison Somers brought her students to Hays for their final leg of the "SeaPerch Challenge," an underwater robotics project they had been working on for several weeks.

They found out just how challenging it is to maneuver a robot under water by remote control.

Bryan Dome was the only student to pick up all four rings with his robot, the first step in successfully completing an obstacle course, and drop them into a bucket -- all under water.

"Skill," deadpanned Dome, who got some help from his partner, Ariel Bowman, whose job was to keep the electrical cord out of his way as he worked their robot through the water.

Victoria Superintendent Linda Kenne had heard about the project last year from her daughter, who was working for the only inland U.S. Navy base in the country in Crane, Ind.

Kenne asked Somers if she was interested in trying it, and this year they ordered kits for students in Principles of Technology, a beginning physics class for sophomores.

Students were divided into groups of two or three, and they, along with Somers, built their own robot.

"Nothing was assembled, so we had to cut PVC pipe, do some soldering and gluing," Somers said. "A lot of us, including the teacher, learned how to do things we had never done before."

With their completed robots in tow, the students showed up to the Fort Hays State University pool early Monday to set up the course and to do troubleshooting, "because this is the first time they had them in the water."

Somers said the students bought into the idea from the beginning, and they accomplished tasks they might not have even thought of before.

"How to waterproof a motor," Taylor Rome said.

"Patience," added Ryan Bleske, who teamed up with his partner, Noah Dreiling, to record the fastest course time of 4.29 seconds.

That, however, still didn't match the dexterity of the Dome-Bowman team, which also mastered the other two steps -- driving under and over a horizontal pole and around several cones.

"Skill," Dome said, sticking to his story about how he was able to get all four rings in the bucket.

"I think it was video game skill," Somers said with a laugh.

On a more serious note, Somers deemed the project a success and plans to do it again next year.

"I think they learned a lot of problem solving," Somers said. "Even watching them today, like when Bryan backed up (his robot) and let the rings fall into the bucket, it was a light-bulb moment."