Students Awarded STEMcation Experience at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover

Blog by Ellinor Walters

US Sailing’s Reach Initiative was established to use sailing as a learning platform and inspire opportunities for students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Environmental Stewardship through authentic learning experiences.

In the spring of 2018, US Sailing created an opportunity for six Reach students, from across the country, to experience one of sailing’s premier events in North America – the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover for a four-day STEMcation. What exactly is a STEMcation? Jessica Servis, Outreach and Education Manager at US Sailing explains it this way, “The mission of this program was for our students to experience all aspects of sailing, and to have the opportunity to come to Newport, and experience the Volvo Ocean Race and the events surrounding it, to meet professional sailors, to see the technology used on the boats, and to see the sustainable practices that they are putting into place, while they are out racing in our ocean.”

Day one of their STEMcation was full-steam ahead. The first stop was on the campus of Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, and the home US Sailing Association. Here the STEMcation students met with leaders of the association and were able to ask questions about potential careers that could combine their passion for sailing along with the academic areas of interest to them. A walk through campus next lead them to the Aquaculture Lab and a chance to meet the Roger Williams University Varsity Sailing Coach, Amanda Callahan. From there they traveled to The Audubon Society of Rhode Island for a private tour of the nature center and aquarium and an informational walk along the through the coastline of the Warren River. The last stop of the day was at the Providence Community Boating where they conducted water quality experiments and went for an evening sail on Providence Harbor.

The following morning students arrived at Fort Adams State Park home of the Volvo Ocean Race Village. They were welcomed on board Vestas 11th Hour Racing Volvo 65 by navigator Mark Towill. Towill talked about his own passion for sailing and how he was able to build a career from following that passion. Freshly awed and inspired, the students then took center stage at the One Ocean Exploration Zone ribbon-cutting where they led the way for an audience of kids to try their hands at sustainability activities, engineering puzzles, and even lessons in 3D printing.

Next up was an inspirational tour of Team AkzoNobel’s Volvo 65 boat led by 23 year old Bermudan sailor Emily Nagel. She had this to share with the STEMcation kids, “my advice would be to take every single opportunity that comes up. If someone offers you the chance to get out on the water, whether it is on an Opti or on a yacht or anything in-between, say yes, get the time out there and meet as many people as you can, and make the most of every opportunity because you never know where your lucky moment is going to come from. And you are going to have a lot of lucky moments.”

The last stop of the day was a behind-the scenes look at the workshop that helps all the Volvo 65s stay in top working condition. The Harken Tech Team demonstrated the inner workings of the mechanical technology onboard the boats, disassembled a winch to let the students see how it worked, and gave them insight on the complex engineering that goes into creating parts strong enough to withstand the Southern Ocean.

Armed with new knowledge and information, day three kicked off at the International Yacht Restoration School of Technology and Trades in downtown Newport where the kids learned about everything from cold-molded wooden boat-building to electrical systems engineering, and the many different marine-trade career paths they could one day venture down. That afternoon they then hit the water one last time on the harbor of Stonington, Connecticut at New England Science and Sailing (NESS). Here the STEMcationers were able to see first-hand how sailing, marine science, and adventure sports can come together for experiential learning on and off the water.

Day four and STEMcation 2018 was a wrap. New friends were made, goals inspired, and a lot of knowledge gained. Servis recaps “Together all six experienced the connections between STEM, sailing and our environment. From aquaculture to sustainability on the open oceans to systems and engineering and design with IYRS and Harken, the biggest message our sailors are walking away with is to stay involved with the sport and to follow their passion,” As these Reach students head back to their own sailing communities, it is the hope that they are able to pass on their experiences and inspire others to follow their passion for wind, water, and waves.

Learn more about US Sailing’s Reach.