Buckeye Local students test skills at Sea Air & Land Challenge

Buckeye Local High School senior Noah Jock explains his water-based robot to judges at the annual Sea Air & Land Challenge at Buckeye Local High School. Schools from Ohio and West Virginia participated and teams tested their STEM skills in a series of obstacles. Photo Provided

CONNORVILLE — Students tested their STEM skills during the annual Sea Air & Land Challenge at Buckeye Local High School on May 3.

More than a dozen teens from Buckeye Local, Martins Ferry and Wheeling Central Catholic took part in the competition where teams completed obstacles with robots of their own design. U.S. Army recruiters Sgts. Courtney Miller and Jeremy Willie were guest speakers for the day and described how STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — plays a major role in the military.

Miller, who trained as a medic, said there were myriad high-tech tools in place to prepare him and his colleagues to treat various health conditions.

“When I was at Fort Bliss, Texas, there were mannequins with eyes that dilated and that spoke 30 languages, and you could get their blood pressure and add IVs. At Fort Drum, N.Y., there were uses in advanced warfare. There’s lots of cool stuff out there,” he added. “Just in the medical field, they have 35-40 positions from neurosurgeons to medics, and each of those jobs have different training aids.”

He said there were educational opportunities by serving in the military and going to college on the G.I. Bill, which pays for schooling, or joining the U.S. Army Reserves and attending training one week a month while being a full-time college student. As a reservist, they are paid while also covering their college costs.

“Employers are looking for your experience and education. It will set you apart,” he said.

Willie said he worked in field artillery and added that there is plenty of science-based work in advancing weapons.

“It’s always an adaptive environment, and we can sit safely in vehicles with progressive systems with high-level capabilities. There are ground-penetrating radars and the Department of Defense has robotics that allow us to access a situation and dispose of IEDs,” Willie continued. “One thing I love about the military is that innovation is not always from the top down. We’ve created the RHINO system (armored shelter) for vehicles and the Duke System to (counter IED’s). We are always advancing in field artillery and refining weapons systems.”

Then it was on to the competitions, where the robots were to complete obstacles by retrieving and carrying blocks to designated areas while team members operated remote controls and viewed activities captured on the robots’ cameras on television screens. They were judged based on written reports, brief presentations and durability and quality of the robots with points given for task completion and timeliness. At the conclusion, BLHS earned first place for the sea contest and Martins Ferry dominated the land competition while Wheeling Central land team earned the Best Innovation Award with their machine.

BLHS senior Noah Jock, who won the sea contest, said he volunteered last year but this was his first time competing. He said manning the controls came naturally to him.

“I’m a fisherman and I enjoy the sea. I also like creating and mathematics and enjoy being part of this because you build your own robot.”

His STEM capabilities and interests are also guiding his future and he intends to study architecture and minor in engineering at Kent State University.

Teammates and fellow seniors Preston Lindsay and Lizzie Stock said their team worked on their land and sea robots since January and it was their first year to participate.

“I like being competitive and it’s definitely a lot of fun,” said Lindsay.

“I liked seeing all of the different robots,” added Stock. “I also like how other schools are coming here to participate. It’s a really cool experience.”

Meanwhile, Martins Ferry’s team included juniors Haiden Merrill, Hunter Theil, Vincent West and Alex Higgs and freshman Leviathan Briggs, all of whom said the activity was fun and many of them have participated for the past three years.

Wheeling Central team members included seniors Katana Baker, Xavier Millhouse and Noah Loy and juniors Oliver Jackson, Don Crall and Zach Vitlib.

“This is my first time,” said Millhouse. “I was excited and optimistic.”

He hopes to study mechanical engineering at West Virginia University while Crall hopes to study chemical engineering.

The event was sponsored by Penn State University’s Electro-Optic Center and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, an agency of more than 6,000 people across the world that assists the Department of Defense. Susan Zingaro, engineering outreach representative for the EOC, said the activity has been held at BLHS since 2018 and the goal was two-fold.

“Overall, it is to introduce students to engineering through robotics,” she said. “This gives them an opportunity to do hands-on engineering projects and gets them into STEM so they can decide whether they may or may not go into the field. This also allows us to apply this to schools to start a STEM school program. We want to talk about careers that support the military, but there are lots of careers in engineering and the sciences.”


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