La Conner Middle Schoolers Engineer Underwater Vehicles with Western Students

Three kids work on underwater vehicle


Twenty five seventh graders peer over the edge of a 10 foot wide, water-filled tank at Shannon Point Marine Center, attention rapt. They are hearing WWU student teams describe the design flaws and failures of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) they recently designed and built and are now testing in the water for the first time. The middle schoolers are from Madison Huscher’s 7th grade science class at La Conner Middle School. This teacher believes in place-based learning. The Western students are in Teaching and Learning about  the Salish Sea,  a 1-credit elective course, taught by Mira Lutz. Students enrolled in the course learned some fundamentals of teaching Salish Sea science and some ways in which Western science and Indigenous Knowledge are working together to  understand  today’s subtidal ecosystems. The culminating project for the course involved facilitating a field trip for middle school students to the Shannon Point Marine Center to engineer their own ROVs. 

Kids test underwater vehicle in water tank

This year’s pilot cohort planned a day of activities to engage middle school students in learning about engineering that has happened here since time immemorial– including building and tending clam gardens and harvesting dentalium shells– and how people  can use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to gather data, monitor activity, and more. Working in teams, students were challenged to design an ROV that could be used to remove trash from the sea floor or surface.  

Maddie Huscher shared: 

It was so special bringing the students to Shannon Point. I had multiple students tell me they now want to go to Western for college. We had such high engagement with this hands-on learning experience. It was incredible watching the seventh graders interact with college students and seeing them envision themselves as college students. The students were so grateful to have had this opportunity.

teacher explains engineering design to kids

The program was made possible by a generous donation from Steve and Shelley Sulkin. Steve served as the director of the Shannon Point Marine Center for 28 years, inspiring Mira Lutz during her studies there as an undergraduate in the 90’s, and retired in 2012. Thank you very much, Sulkins.