Quileute students learn with robotics

When former Quileute Tribal School students returned to judge a robotics competition among current students, they showed this year’s competitors how an interest in science can lead to careers in natural resources and related fields.

The MATE ROV competition—Mariner Advanced Technology Education remotely operated vehicles—encourages students across the globe to design robots that can take on challenging underwater tasks, then compete to see how well those robots work. The competition, which counts the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration among its sponsors, wasn’t just created to occupy students with challenging tasks; it’s meant to spark interest in science, engineering, mathematics, marketing, graphic design and other activities that may eventually grow into careers.

Ruby Sheriff, a Hoh tribal member who works for the tribe in natural resources, said her participation in the program helped bolster her interest in the field.

Sheriff helped build a claw for her team’s underwater robot out of a cat-litter scoop. Now established in her career, Sheriff returned to judge this year’s competition, held in Forks in May.

“I like going to the competition and seeing the kids’ ROVs,” she said. “I know how much work it takes—how much patience.”

Chenoa Black, a Quileute tribal member who’s graduated and now works for the tribe’s human resources department, said she applies skills sharpened by the ROV program in other areas of her life.

“The creative thinking, the way you can come up with ideas for building the body—it was pretty cool,” she said.

Quileute Tribal School sent two teams to this year’s competition: Aqua Pack, which came in second overall; and Xalidíswa & Ákil, which in the Quileute language is “Sea Otter and Bear.” That team earned the MacGyver award, recognizing them for crafting the most creative solutions, and the Team Spirit award.

Isaiah Jackson, a Quileute tribal member who was CEO of this year’s Aqua Pack team, said the team was a natural fit: “I always liked to play with technology,” he said, adding that he was originally on a team whose efforts were ended early by COVID, but stuck with it.

This year’s Aqua Pack team was made up of Jackson, Galen Callaghan and Gabe Johnson; Xalidíswa & Ákil was made up of Jacob Smith, TéaRenée Peregrine, Alexandria Palmer and Teresa Schwegel.

“We learned how to deal with problems and how to solve them together,” said Smith, a Quileute tribal member.

Quileute Tribal School science teacher Alice Ryan was the team’s staff mentor and was named Mentor of the Year.

“This is why I teach,” she said. “This feeling of awe, excitement, achievement is what I get back.”

Above: With advisor Alice Ryan in the center, Quileute Tribal School students and alumni pose after this year’s robotics competition in Forks. Story: Trevor Pyle. Photo provided by Alice Ryan.