Project Spotlight: Fueling the Ocean STEM Workforce Pipeline

STELAR recently had the opportunity to interview Jill Zande from the MATE ROV Competitions: Providing Pathways to the Ocean STEM Workforce project to learn more about the project’s current work. This project uses the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center's highly successful remotely operated vehicle (ROV) competition network to provide an engaging platform to prepare middle and high school students for careers in the ocean STEM workforce. The project just held its annual international ROV competition at the end of June. Jill shared more about her work during the STELAR webinar on Professional Development in ITEST.

1. What excites you most about the work you do every day?

It’s not so much the work that I do every day, but the result of the work that I do throughout the year that most excites me.  I’m referring to the MATE international ROV (remotely operated vehicle or underwater robot) competition that takes place each year in June.  When the student teams arrive at the event and showcase their vehicles, I forget about all of the hard work and relish in their accomplishments.  It’s so very rewarding to see what the students have engineered and to hear them describe their learning experience.  What’s also rewarding is to listen to their teachers and parents talk about the changes that they’ve seen in their students.  It’s not always about the technical skills; more often it's about their students becoming better organized, better able to work with others, and more self-confident. 

2. Which STELAR/ITEST resources do you find most valuable?

I find the connection to the larger ITEST community the most valuable.  Too often we get stuck in our own silos; being exposed to and connected with other individuals and organizations doing similar work is so important for our project’s (as well as my own personal) growth.  I find that I learn so much!

3. How has the ITEST community supported you in your work?

The ITEST community has supported me in my own work by providing me with exposure to best practices in professional development, student engagement, and pedagogy, just to name a few.  There is such a wealth of expertise and experience within the community; it’s a privilege to have access to it, especially face-to-face during the PI Summits. 

4. Can you share how your ITEST project impacts youth?

In the big picture, both our strategies and our scale-up project use MATE’s ROV competition as a way to engage students and get them excited about STEM.  From designing and building underwater robots to preparing project reports, engineering presentations, and poster displays, the competitions challenge students to apply the knowledge and skills that they are learning in the classroom (or afterschool setting!).  To support them in their learning, we offer professional development to their teachers (parents are invited, too!) as well as student-specific workshops.  Our project is fortunate to have widespread reach so we have the ability to impact thousands of students each year.  We currently have 17 regions across the U.S. that offer student design and building workshops; topic-specific workshops on electronics and waterproofing, for example; design reviews, pool practice days with access to industry professionals for troubleshooting support; field trips to local marine technology organizations; and more.