Sunday, April 1, 2012


Robotics is one of science’s new frontiers and the recent SeaPerch regional championships proved Filipinos are key to helping young Americans cross that threshold.

At least 17 of the Maryland middle and high schools that took part in the SeaPerch contest at the University of Maryland-Baltimore last March 26 had one or more Filipino coaches (some schools fielded more than one team).

Most of them were trained by compatriot Criselda Belarmino, a chemistry and physics teacher who’s been at the forefront of many school science competitions since she was recruited from the Philippines by a Kansas, Mo. school in 2005.

SeaPerch was established in 2003 to promote interest in underwater studies. The program trains tutors to teach students how to build submersible Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) as part of regular or extracurricular school work.

“Students learn important engineering and design skills,” its website proclaimed “and are exposed to all the exciting careers that are possible in naval architecture and naval, ocean and marine engineering.”

The program is funded by the Office of Naval Research and aims to develop the next generation of naval architects; and marine, naval and ocean engineers.

The importance of underwater ROVs was evident during last year’s Gulf Coast oil disaster where engineers relied exclusively on deep-sea submersibles to stop leaking crude from a damaged oil rig.

Winners of the regional contest will go to the National SeaPerch Challenge that is being held this year at the Manassas Park Community Center in Prince William, Va. Organizers expect as many as 80 teams of 4 students and one advisor/coach per team coming from all over the nation.

The Filipino teacher-coaches who participated in last week’s SeaPerch regional competitions are Geneve Garcia, Maria Panganiban, Leodegario Ras, Arthur Mitra, Ferdinand Camarote, Janice Enrico, Ferdinand Soriano, Ledi Caranay, Susana Pascual, Virginia Maranan, Warren Jamis, Ronnie Pitogo and Julita Belches

Belarmino, who teaches at the Maritime Industry Academy in this city, is an active proponent of robotics. Her team almost won the regional SeaPerch contest last year, she said, but was beaten by the bigger and better-funded Baltimore Polytechnique Institute when their craft’s propeller failed.

A graduate of the Marikina Institute of Science & Technology, she was among the first to receive a Department of Education scholarship to pursue her Masters at Dela Salle University in 2001. She taught physics at the Novaliches High School in Quezon City.

In 2005, she was lured by a teaching post in Kansas City, where she led the school’s contingent in the 1st robotic competition, winning an $18,000 grant. “Many of the students were finding things to do after school,” she explained.

All nine of the students who joined the robotics team earned scholarships and a ticket to college, Belarmino said.

She moved to the Baltimore area in 2009, becoming the only Filipino science teacher leader and physics teaching resource agent in the school district. Belarmino is a certified trainer in the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).

Since finishing a 2-week trainer’s training coarse in Hawaii three years ago, Belarmino has helped develop dozens of teacher-coaches, many of them fellow Filipinos in Baltimore city schools, to help lead their respective school’s robotics teams.

The United States has fallen behind from 3rd to 17th in the world in the number of engineering college graduates. There is reportedly a shortage of 400,000 engineers in the US and experts warn that would hurt US competitiveness.

The SeaPerch program is credited with training more than 4,000 teachers in 43 states.

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