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RGC High School emerges victorious in HESTEC SeaPerch Challenge
By Jennifer Berghom, Public Affairs Representative
Posted: 09/28/2012
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The Rio Grande City High School A team blew the competition out of the water with its swift watercraft "Nautilus" Friday, Sept. 28 during the SeaPerch Challenge at The University of Texas-Pan American's 11th annual Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) conference.


UTPA Image
The Rio Grande City High School A team won the 2012 SeaPerch Challenge at UTPA Sept. 28. The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Navy, was one of many activities held on campus during HESTEC. Pictured left to right are: U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jason Webb, Rio Grande City High School coach Ricardo Lopez, students Adrian Garza, Eric Rodriguez Jr., Michael Anthony Villarreal, Baldomero Villarreal III and Valentin Gomez Jr., and UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

"Nautilus" was the only remotely operated vehicle to complete an obstacle course in which the robot had to pass through four rings underwater at the UTPA Natatorium, emerge, then retrace its steps in under one minute.

Overall, the team earned 81.5 points, besting second-place winners Roma High School Red team by 13 points.

"It's an amazing feeling. It was hard work," said Valentin Gomez Jr., a senior at Rio Grande City High who also competed last year.

As winners, the Rio Grande City High team members each received an iPad. They also received an invitation from the Navy to participate in the national competition in May in Indianapolis.

Members of Roma Red, which earned 68.5 points, received gift certificates for the new iPod Touch. Third place winner Harlingen High School Gold, garnered 64 points and members received Texas Instruments calculators.

Gomez and fellow teammates said they were thrilled to win the regional championship because they were disappointed about coming in second the previous year.

Gomez and the other Rio Grande City A team members Adrian Garza, Baldomero Villarreal III, Eric Rodriguez, Jr. and Michael Anthony Villarreal said they also were pleased with the outcome because they got a late start on the project because of other school commitments. But once they began working on the watercraft it became their No. 1 priority.

"We knew it was all in good fun and that we were going to try our best to compete here," Michael Anthony Villarreal, a senior at Rio Grande City High, said.


UTPA Image
Brownsville's Porter High School seniors Jaime Villarreal Jr. (pictured second from left) and Angel Treviño (pictured second from right) submerge their remote-controlled watercraft in the pool at UTPA during the SeaPerch Challenge during HESTEC.

The team members said they believe better communication among them helped them win this year. Last year, the team place second in the competition.

"It put us in situations where we used what we learned in class, we get to see how the stuff we learned in class apply to real-life, everyday things," Gomez said. "It also gave us an opportunity to learn from each other."

Each member took responsibility for each part of the "Nautilus'" creation, from creating the design to assembling the watercraft and preparing a presentation to give to the judges. The students said they truly worked as a team, supporting and offering help to each other when they needed it.

The students said they were grateful to their school for its support of their project and to the U.S. Navy for extending the invitation to them to compete in the national challenge.

Senior Chief Phillip Wygans of the U.S. Navy said the SeaPerch Challenge, funded by the Office of Naval Research, is designed to encourage high school students to pursue careers in the ever-growing fields related to science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

"I take a lot of pride in being able to work with them," Wygans said. "It gives me hope for our future. I think it demonstrates that this country has the capability and has a bright future in developing leaders and continuing leading the world in those fields of science, technology, engineering and math."

Twenty-three teams from 14 high schools — some schools had more than one team compete — were tasked with completing the obstacle course, picking up rings floating on the pools surface and submerged at the pool's floor, and presenting their machines to judges.

During the awards ceremony UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen asked the students how many of them were going to college.

Nelsen said those who don't go to college are making a $1.6 million mistake -- the amount a college graduate will make more than a high school graduate in his or her lifetime. However those who do plan to go to college and major in a STEM-related field can earn 26 percent more than college graduates in other fields of study.

For more information about HESTEC, visit www.hestec.org.

To see more of the SeaPerch Challenge, visit this photo gallery.