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Mecha Mules Visit Washington D.C.

If you were part of the email group receiving Evelynn Miller’s daily updates, you were privy to a student’s account of our daily activities. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites and speak from a coach/chaperone's perspective.

Josh Miller and I lead the four kids around DC to see sights including the Natural History Museum, Ford’s Theater, the Holocaust Museum, the National Archives, and the National Portrait Gallery. We toured the National Mall to see the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the beautiful WWII Memorial with its many fountains, and this year, we visited the FDR and Eleanore Rosevelt Memorials.

This is my third year taking students to D.C. and I’ve learned that the best time to see the memorials is at night. All the landmarks around the National Mall are lit up and add an element of grandeur to an already awe-inspiring display. Another reason I prefer seeing the monuments at night is because it is much cooler. There is quite a bit of ground to cover around the National Mall and strolling at night is a nice reprieve after roaming around in the afternoon heat. Strangely enough, we felt very safe day and night around D.C. and on the Metro. It was clean and I felt safer in that big city than even in our neighboring towns.

After three days of sightseeing, we left our home away from home: our Airbnb in Alexandria, Virginia. It was a long Metro ride from Alexandria to our dorms at the University of Maryland. Earlier in the week, we received an invitation for a Capital Tour from Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s office. If you recall, Rep. Perez is a big fan of the Mecha Mules and visited, and jumped in, our pool last Seaperch season.

I remembered that the Capital Tour was one of the highlights of our trip the first year so we jetted back to D.C. after checking into our dorms. We were thankful for Uber because it saved more than 2 hours of travel time on the Metro. There were a couple of new highlights on this tour. First, we started in Congresswoman Perez’s office and were escorted through the tunnels to the Capitol Building. There were a lot of security checkpoints, as you can imagine. We were also able to see the House Chambers. I looked around in the 3D version of what I saw on TV while watching the State of the Union. Additionally, we were escorted to the Speaker’s Balcony for a great view straight down the National Mall.

We caught another Uber back to the dorms, essentially ending our time as tourists and starting the last leg of our trip: time at the university and the competition. The kids got to see what dorm life was like; not as cushy as the Airbnb, but hey, that’s college! What made sleeping on hard mattresses surrounded by cinder block walls all worth it was the all-you-can-eat dining hall. This dining hall was massive with 11 service stations featuring pizza, salads, comfort foods, taco bar, Chinese food, desserts, and everything in between. Our four hungry teenagers were in heaven.

To be honest, Josh and I enjoyed the huge selection, too! I enjoy taking kids on these trips, particularly to expose them to a college campus so they can get a little taste of what it may be like; both literally and figuratively.

Josh, as head coach of the Seaperch team this year, will give an update on the competition day itself. I’m very fortunate to be a part of these trips to the east coast. There is an unlimited amount of history to be learned in DC and taking these small-town kids to a big city full of culture is an amazing opportunity for them. The Seaperch competition itself is a great setting to meet people from all over the world. Competing at the international level is daunting and our kids kept their composure and handled the situation with grace. I am very proud of our Seaperch Bermuda Team.

By Josh Miller-Coach of Team Bermuda

Competition day arrived and with that all the anxiety that comes with competing in an international competition, as defending world champions. Our morning began with checking in on our obstacle course driver Gary who, regardless of using sunscreen, received a substantial sun burn during our relaxing pool time the day prior. Gary was in good spirits and was mentally ready for the competition that we have all been preparing for.

Our team breakfast was a memorable event as one would suspect when bringing four teenagers to an all you can eat buffet. Even the weight of a massive competition could not bring down the spirits of our competitors when they came face to face with a variety of breakfast confectioneries. That bliss would be short lived, as we arrived to receive our times for the competition.

As the stress of the competition rose and the uneasiness of the future set in, we set up our booth in the competition room amongst our fellow competitors to wait for our moment to compete. In this fascinating room of fierce competitors we saw the scope of our competition, traveling from booth to booth we as a team took in the creativity, and ingenuity of this competition. Seeing the diverse ideas to circumvent certain obstacles in the course, helped center our teams attention to how we may utilize some of these ideas for future competitions. From fully 3D printed robots to truly creative hydrodynamic designs our team was definitely inspired for the future.

Go time! It was finally our time to compete. We gathered for one last team meeting before the competition was on its way, our drivers Dalton Bruntmyer and Gary Burke were mentally ready to go, even their sense of humor was unaltered as Dalton placed a wooden horse he had bought earlier in the competition on our robots carrier as a tribute to the Wahkiakum Mules Mascot.

We traveled down to the pool as a team and sat on the bleachers, in sight of all the spectators in the Olympic sized pool. Finally it was our time to compete. Nerves were high as our competitors placed the robot in the pool for the first stick of the competition, the obstacle course. We had been competitive at home hitting 29 seconds runs in this race for time, nine seconds faster than last year's fastest time. The judge asked if we were ready to go, our driver gave them a thumbs up, the timer began.

During the first run our robot suffered a connection issue, a loose cable connection that allowed our robot to operate. This had happened a few times before so Gary Burke, our obstacle course driver, was ready to correct the issue, though it cost us valuable time. Now it was time for the mission course, and with that our lead driver Dalton Bruntmyer was ready to go. Dalton started unlatching the gate and opening it to put the items in the basket on the other side while the robot was submerged five feet under water. The connection issue that had plagued Gary reared not just once, but three times during his run. Amanda and I watched proudly as they calmly held themselves together in this stressful time, correcting the issue to the best of their abilities. Though we did not win the competition, we were truly blessed to have an amazing group of kids on our team.

Student’s Perspective From Internationals

By Evelynn Miller-Mecha Mules Teammate

The experience of going to Washington D.C. for the International Seaperch competition was incredible. Here is an overview of the week and plans for the future.

The days leading up to the competition were very fun and helped with team bonding and settling in. Those days that were spent in an Airbnb were filled with marvelous memories of visiting landmarks and museums as well as spending time with team members. Personally, I believe that seeing the history of America was so delightful and I would not trade it for anything. On another note, getting to be somewhere new also showed us how to be somewhat independent from parents, in a way.

Competing was so nerve-racking and stressful but also a wonderful learning experience. The results we had were not as high as other years. However, that was somewhat to be expected due to the fact that the team was composed of entirely new kids. The following were the scores,

Obstacle Course: 24th; Mission course: 12th; Technical Design Report: 11th; Overall: 16th. So the previous year’s scores were higher but this year the team took many risks and learned so many things about engineering.

Next year we may try a new competition called RoboBoat which is a different international student competition that is more advanced than Seaperch. In this competition the goal is to design autonomous, robotic boats to navigate through a specific challenge course. It seems likely that RoboBoat will be pursued, though discussions are still ongoing. If this does happen, Seaperch will still be done next year, however the focus may be on slightly younger students. None of this is confirmed but this is all a possibility.

 

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