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Learning at the Bottom of the Ocean

Marine Institute helps youth reach new depths

Dwight Howse

Dwight Howse is the Head of the School of Ocean Technology at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University. The School of Ocean Technology is responsible for developing and delivering education and training, applied research and development programs in various aspects of ocean technology. They are committed to delivering educational and training programs that meet the needs of the ocean sector in Canada, and beyond. 

The best way to get youth engaged with ocean technology is to get their hands wet. So says Dwight Howse, the driver behind the Marine’s Institute’s participation in the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center's International ROV Competition. With hands-on mentoring and engagement along the way, Mr. Howse works with a team from the Marine Institute and the school system to enable teams of high school and university students to design underwater remotely operated vehicles to compete against other students from across the world.

The competition offers students from secondary to undergraduate studies the opportunity to act as designers and pilots, tackling missions modeled after real-life scenarios. Each year, a new challenge is issued, unique to the location of that year’s competition; from exploring outer space at NASA's Johnson Center in Texas in 2005 to investigating an undersea volcano in Hawaii in 2010, the students must respond to unique situations.

“The competition emulates industry in that projects are done by teams, and each student brings their own ability,” says Mr. Howse. Students are encouraged to think of themselves as “entrepreneurs”, transforming their teams into companies that manufacture, market and sell the products they build. In addition to engineering their ROVs, each student is assigned a specific role - from preparing technical reports to designing posters and conducting presentations.

The Institute first took part in 2003, when Mr. Howse and two high school teachers, Clarence Button, and Tom Donovan trained a team of six students from high schools in St. John’s to compete in Boston, Massachusetts. By 2006, 75 students had expressed excitement about competing, which saw the development of two separate teams; one for high school students and another primarily for Memorial University undergraduates.

When one of those teams won first place that year, Mr. Howse realized the extent of the human and technological potential on his doorstep supporting the ROV opportunity. Along with smart, eager students, in the Province, the Marine Institute also offered access to the innovative flume tank and other high level facilities.

Mr. Howse invited MATE representatives to view the Institute, proposing that the international competition take place in St. John's in 2007. “They were amazed,” Mr. Howse recalls. “Partly by the facilities themselves, but also by the willingness on the part of the Marine Institute, ACOA and the province to come on board and support this.”

With 400 students representing six countries from across the world, the competition was a huge success in St. John's. It also cemented the Institute’s international reputation as a leading light in ocean technology. “There’s nowhere else in the world that focuses on training ROV technicians like we do,” says Mr. Howse.

In addition to competing internationally, high school students across the province also have the opportunity to participate in regional competitions at the Marine Institute each year. These competitions are supported by a long list of provincial sponsors, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, Hibernia Management and Development Company, Terra Nova, Statoil, Subsea7, Husky Energy and AMEC.

Many participants, Mr. Howse says, follow their passion further by enrolling in the Remotely Operated Vehicles Technician Diploma Program at the Institute. Introduced in 2008, the two-year program trains students in all aspects of the technology, from piloting, electrical and hydraulics to launch and live field training.

Whether they are competing or training, Mr. Howse says that engaging young people in these activities is essential for growth. “Having a project to work on is a much better way to learn than being talked to in a classroom,” he says.

And the career opportunities presented in the field are excellent, Mr. Howse explains. “There is a significant need for trained ROV pilots and technicians in the offshore oil and gas industry, in resource management and in security,” he says. “This program inspires students to consider very viable, lucrative careers focused on the oceans.”

“We're changing the way young people think about the oceans,” he continues. “No longer will they associate the ocean with a dark, dangerous lifestyle, but an opportunity. Somehow, we need to get back to the point where we are proud of our ocean resource as an incredible asset to this province.”

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