GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tyson Fukuyama, left, and Shaun Kaulukukui prepared to launch their Sea Perch robot at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park on Friday.
Mad scientists find learning fun
A tech program has teens build robots and computers
Bikini-clad Cayla Fukushima focused on her mission, squeezing a control box in her palm, but the underwater robot she had built seemed to have a mind of its own in the pool at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park.
"Our propeller keeps coming off, so we can go down but we can't come back up," said the incoming senior at Kalani High School, one of 23 Oahu high school students taking part in a summer program funded by a new grant from the National Science Foundation to Kapiolani Community College.
The students have spent the last four weeks working 9 to 5, solidifying their math skills, building their own computers and creating the remotely operated vehicles that they tested out Friday in the finale of the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics Summer Bridge program.
The program is designed to recruit incoming and graduating seniors with some inclination toward those fields and give them a leg up on college. The students came from 16 high schools, including Farrington, Leilehua, Waipahu, Punahou and Kamehameha.
"The idea behind this is to find our local kids and get them to move into these majors," said Keolani Noa, outreach coordinator for the STEM program at Kapiolani. "There's a mental block with science and math. There was a lot of convincing them that they are capable, it's just a matter of working hard."
"We want to give opportunities to those who probably wouldn't get them," she said. "Our main population is native Hawaiian, but it's not just for them."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
A Sea Perch bobbed in the water in a test of the remotely operated vehicle. Twenty-three Oahu high school seniors built the robots as part of the four-week Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Summer Bridge program run by Kapiolani Community College.
The backbone of the program is ALEKS online math training, but what make it work are the hands-on projects, according to John Rand, a science professor at KCC who coordinates the project. Despite her initial frustration with her Sea Perch robot, which is about the size of a bread box, Fukushima said the program opened her eyes.
"In school when they teach science, it's not really all that fun," she said. "This program shows you what you can do with science and math."
Tyler Duarte, who will be a senior at Kaiser High, said the Summer Bridge program also changed his attitude.
"When I first came in, I didn't really like math," he said. "I actually enjoy math now. It gave us insight on how to use it as a tool in everyday life."
Duarte and his team managed to get their Sea Perch to complete its mission: removing a plug and lifting a box to the surface of the pool, simulating the retrieval of an instrument panel.
The students built their Sea Perch remotely operated vehicles from kits developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They cut PVC pipe into precise lengths to make a frame, attaching a motor, propellers and floats, learning how to make a propulsion system and control the vehicle.
The Sea Perch project is done in conjunction with the University of Hawaii Manoa Sea Grant college program. Funding from the Pacific Alliance, a partnership between the University of Hawaii and the University of Alaska, also allowed students to each build their own high-end computer.
"It demystified the whole idea of what it actually takes to put a computer together," said Max Lindsey, 18, of Kamehameha Schools. "It is actually something you can do with your own hands."
After coming up short on their first mission, Fukushima and her partner were beaming after the second event, a version of "capture the flag." They fixed the glitch on their Sea Perch, dumped some weight and wound up winning that game.