Portland District’s dive operations team brings underwater reality to the classroom

By Erica Jensen, Public Affairs Office

Students enrolled in Columbia High School’s Marine Advance Technology Education program learned about remotely-operated vehicles theory and operations during two visits this winter with Rick Benoit and Toddy Manny, both from Portland District’s Office of Dive/ROV Operations and Safety.  (Photo courtesy of Columbia High School)

Students enrolled in Columbia High School’s Marine Advance Technology Education program learned about remotely-operated vehicles theory and operations during two visits this winter with Rick Benoit and Toddy Manny, both from Portland District’s Office of Dive/ROV Operations and Safety. (Photo courtesy of Columbia High School)

 

Rick Benoit and Todd Manny from Portland District’s Office of Dive/ROV Operations and Safety made two trips to Columbia High School in White Salmon, Washington, this winter. The first was to teach students about remotely-operated vehicles and how the Corps of Engineers uses them around the world during its dive operations; the second visit took place at an underwater laboratory where students got to practice what they learned.

Todd Manny, from Portland District’s Office of Dive/ROV Operations and Safety taught ROV operations and theory during a classroom presentation with Columbia High School students last February.  (Photo by Rick Benoit, Operations Division)

Todd Manny, from Portland District’s Office of Dive/ROV Operations and Safety (left) taught Columbia High School students ROV operations and theory last February. (Photo by Rick Benoit, Operations Division)

Benoit and Manny got involved with the school when Skip Fowler, a ranger at Bonneville Lock and Dam, suggested them to Columbia High School, which had just begun its Marine Advance Technology Education program, a new course that includes curriculum on ROVs, their use and benefits.

“We were happy to be asked,” said Benoit. “Todd collaborated with Columbia High School, U.S. Geological Survey, the Skamania County Sheriff’s Department, Bonneville Lock and Dam’s fisheries staff and others around the District to make this happen.”

During their first visit, Benoit and Manny taught ROV theory and operation principles to 15 students in Chris Hipskind’s class, to help them prepare to build and operate their own units. They also brought reality to classroom science as they briefed students on required education, career options and how the Corps’ uses ROVs in its dive operations at dams and other underwater structures around the world.

“Most of the kids were wide-eyed and inquisitive and thought the possibility of doing this kind of work was very cool,” said Benoit. “They asked lots of questions about what they needed to do to get a job like mine.”

After giving students time to build their ROV, Benoit and Manny returned in March with Bonneville Dam fisheries staff and biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey, to host an in-water workshop at the Stevenson municipal swimming pool.   They helped students test their self-made ROVs, as well as to learn how to operate commercial underwater robotic cameras. The cameras offered a view of not only the underwater landscape, but also of the possibilities for a future career in dive operations.

Sgt. Arnie Gonser, Skamania County Sheriff's Department, helped students test their homemade ROV and operate commercial underwater robotic cameras during an in-water workshop in March. (Photo by Rick Benoit)

Sgt. Arnie Gonser, Skamania County Sheriff’s Department, helped students test their homemade ROV and operate commercial underwater robotic cameras during an in-water workshop in March. (Photo by Rick Benoit)

This was Benoit’s third classroom presentation and, since then, he has two more requests in the queue: one with the Multnomah County Young Marines and one with the Boy Scouts.

“This is a great way for Rick and I to introduce kids to our fascinating underwater world and the career possibilities it offers,” said Manny. “Our goal was to open up young minds and inspire students to begin a lifelong pursuit as an underwater explorer … and I think we did that.”

Portland District staff regularly partner with schools and other institutions around the Pacific Northwest to bring reality to Corps of Engineers and other STEM-related career fields.   If you have an idea or opportunity for a classroom presentation or other education activity, contact the Portland District Public Affairs Office at cenwp-pa@usace.army.mil.