Hollis tests out engineering; Middle school students take part in two-day SeaPerch Program.

HOLLIS – The pressure was on Wednesday as eighth-graders at Hollis Brookline Middle School put the finishing touches on their remotely operated underwater vehicles.

The two-day SeaPerch Program, coordinated by HBMS teachers and staff from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and University of New Hampshire, teaches hands-on engineering skills as students assemble the machines with pieces in a provided kit.

SeaPearch, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, is designed to help students develop an interest in science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) fields, which are the fastest-growing and highest in demand in the country.

In one classroom, which was notably quiet, students completed the final of three stages: assembly of the control box.

Students studied step-by-step instructions and a multicolored circuit diagram while working with pliers, drills, wire strippers and soldering irons.

Annie Hazelton twisted two wires – red and white respectively – between her fingertips as her partner Aryssa LeBaron looked on.

“Right now, we’re figuring out the buttons for the controller, so we have to attach the wires to the right place,” Annie said. “It’s not as complicated as it seems when you actually have it in your hand.”

Nearby, partners Ethan Smith and Adam Razzaboni worked together to solder the wires to the control box.

Adam, who held the wires while Ethan soldered, said he wasn’t nervous because he’d received instruction from teachers and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard staff.

“Now that I know what I’m doing, it’s pretty fun,” Adam said.

In another room, Roland Marquis, a nuclear engineer and SeaPerch coordinator for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, sat with a group of of students who listened to his instructions.

The SeaPerch program, Marquis said, was developed in response to a shortage of students graduating from high school and college with the desire to enter STEM fields.

“This program was designed to get students at middle school level exposed to working with their hands and doing technical things that are fun,” Marquis said.

“It’s really actually amazing to think about that we give them a bag of parts – wires, switches, screws and nuts – and a set of instructions, and one step at a time they turn that stuff into a fully functional underwater ROV,” he said, referring to remotely operated vehicle.

Eighth-grade Earth science teacher George Minott said the project ties well into the hands-on inquiry-based thinking he teaches in his labs. Minott was one of a group of HBMS teachers who attended an all-day training session at UNH to help facilitate the project.

“My first impression when we did the training was, ‘How in the world are we going to make a hundred of these things?’ ” he said, “but I’m very impressed with how well everybody’s working and helping each other out.”

Stephen Capraro, who teaches ancient history at the school, said he appreciated the students using practical skills and teamwork, even though the project doesn’t directly relate to his class.

One of the several parent volunteers, Craig Plummer, said his son Cayden, an eighth-grader – a “self-identified future engineer” – had been looking forward to the project for a month.

Derek Edry can be reached at 594-1243, dedry@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_Derek.