A handful of Walker High School students are learning about the basic concepts of robotics and, in particular, how to develop an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV.

Those lessons in robotics are being connected to real life situations.

As part of the class, the students will put the functionality of their creation to the test April 22 when they compete in the 2016 Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s Regional ROV Competition at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.

The competition is focused on student learning and is designed to challenge students to apply the physics, math, electronics and engineering skills they have learned in the classroom to solve problems from the marine workplace.

This year’s competition theme is “From the Gulf of Mexico to Jupiter’s Moon Europa: ROV Encounters in Inner and Outer Space.”

Walker High School Principal Jason St. Pierre said the course content is provided by the MATE Center, and it qualifies as a certified STEM course that teaches the integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

He introduced the curriculum to his school last year, when seven students enrolled. This year’s class has grown to 15 students, and with word of its popularity and potential spreading, St. Pierre is expecting enrollment to grow again.

One of the school’s newest teachers, second-year biology teacher Eric Turgeau, instructs the course. Turgeau uses curriculum materials from MATE, as well as a ROV kit and programming software program from Intelitek, a STEM education curriculum solutions company.

“Designing and building an ROV for a specific mission takes students through the design process, encouraging them to think creatively and research, test and evaluate solutions,” Turgeau said. “It also challenges them to organize their time and resources, all the while working towards a deadline, just as if they were in the workplace.

“There are few opportunities for students as real-world as the MATE ROV curriculum and competition,” he said.

Turgeau said the MATE competitions challenge students to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and transform their teams into companies that manufacture, market and sell products and services.

Past competitions have encouraged students to develop ROVs to cap oil wells and survey WWII shipwrecks for environmental hazards. He said this year’s competition seeks proposals for a first-of-its-kind, dual purpose and single launch ROV that can operate in the harsh environments of both the deep ocean and outer space.

St. Pierre said he is exploring a variety of ways to connect the Walker High School robotics students with college and career opportunities.

He said he hopes to partner with Northshore Technical College to offer college credit. He plans to develop a Jump Start program that allows the robotics students to connect to the state’s oil and gas industry, and he is working with the LSU School of Engineering to develop a summer robotics camp, to introduce more students to the curriculum and its real world applications.

“I have oil and gas companies calling me now about this program, asking for my students to come to work for them out of high school,” St. Pierre said. “This can be a great pipeline curriculum that connects our students with a major industry in our state.”

St. Pierre said the course provides a hands-on learning environment that is developing a “unique skill set for our students.”

“The students are designing the plans and building these ROVs from the very start of this class,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how they become so engaged in their work and how they’re thinking of new designs and new applications of what they’re learning. There’s no doubt that all of our robotics students will be able to take the knowledge they learn from here and immediately apply it to real world needs and markets.”