NURTEC supported the fourth and final year of the COSEE-TEK OSTC that launched with an orientation event on January 31, 2015 and featured participation from all five schools from the Northeast Alliance of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) – UConn, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), the University of Rhode Island (URI), Northeastern University, and UMass-Amherst. As in years past the orientation provided an overview of ocean science and technology focused on a theme – this year’s was “Habitat Mapping.” This theme was chosen for its regional relevance as there are several ongoing habitat mapping efforts including a major effort focused on Long Island Sound. The 38 participants at the orientation included undergraduate students, graduate student assistants, LSAMP Coordinators and COSEE-TEK staff. The students had opportunities for hands experience with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), sediment grabs and ocean mapping and visualization software. At the end of the orientation teams from each school were matched up with a COSEE-TEK staff member to serve as the “Technology Mentor” to provide guidance, motivation and a role model for each team.
For 2015 COSEE-TEK established a series of milestones for each team to meet during the spring. Teams met regularly sometimes in person and sometimes virtually via Webex to move forward to meet the milestones that included the conceptualization, design and initiating the fabrication of a technology that would address some aspect of habitat mapping. The final construction of the teams’ technologies occurred at the two-day OSTC workshop held at UConn-Avery Point on April 18-19th. Another new facet for 2015 was the establishment of a true challenge in that the teams were judged on their meeting of the milestones and on a presentation given at the start of the workshop. The winning and runner-up teams were provided a cash award.
As in past years the workshop took on a “Monster Garage” atmosphere with the teams working side by side with their mentors as well as collaborating with the other teams to complete their technologies in time for at sea testing on board COSEE-TEK partner Project Oceanology’s Envirolab II vessel. All students also participated in ocean sampling using conventional technologies on board the Envirolab including a sediment grab, plankton tow and otter trawl that provided a snapshot of the biodiversity of the Sound.
Ultimately four of the five teams participated in 2015 with Team Northeastern designing a sonar system, Team UConn attempting to build a sediment sampler, Team URI building and modifying a Sea Perch ROV and Team WPI coming up with a new build it yourself ROV design. As in years past some technologies worked better than others. However the goals of the OSTC were twofold: 1) to provide underrepresented minority students an opportunity to experience ocean science and technology and 2) to develop 21st Century Skills through the entire experience. Based upon pre/post evaluations the OSTC continues to meet these goals while providing a fun, yet rewarding experience for the LSAMP undergraduates.