Some eighth-graders at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School will learn how to construct an underwater Remotely Controlled Vehicle, or robot, in a new course coming to Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Grant-funded by the Duke Energy Foundation, the semester-long wheel course for eighth-graders, will use a curriculum that applies the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) discplines in the building of an underwater robot.

In addition, the $15,000 grant will be used to expand the existing robotics lab at Port St. Joe Elementary School, said Donna Thompson, representing the Gulf Education Foundation.

Broadending the ripple effect of those grant dollars, any contribution up to a certain amount made to the non-profit foundation is matched dollar for dollar by the state, which will allow the funding of future classroom mini-grants for teachers around the county, Thompson said.

The underwater robotics course follows curriculum from SeaPerch, a name which comes from the USS Perch, a highly-decorated World War II submarine that was among the first to incorporate an early form of air-conditioning.

Students build an underwater vehicle from a kit comprised of low-cost, easily-accessible parts, following a curriculum that teasches basic engineering and science concepts with a marine technology theme, according to the program’s literature.

It is hands-on, aimed at building teamwork while students are challenged and have fun and integrates STEM at a level meeting national educational standards.

Another goal is the teaching of teachers and the seventh-, and eighth-grade teachers as well as high school teachers at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School were trained in the curriculum in May.

Aspects of the course will be applied to other courses where appropriate, Thompsosn said.

The program also aims to begin the mulling, the consideration, by students about STEM careers, the fastest-growing segment of the worldwide labor market.

As the SeaPerch literature declares in bold letters, the country is in need of trained engineers, and the program is tailored to STEM and the future of the U.S. Navy.

While there is a need in the country for trained engineers, and estimates are 400,000 will be needed in the near future, the U.S. has fallen from third to 17th in the world in the number of graduates from engineering programs.

Just 5 percent of science degrees are awarded in engineering; in the China the number is 50 percent.

The grant funding the innovative program fit with the mission of the Duke Energy Foundation, said representative Danny Collins.

“We are proud to help the district and proud of what y’all are doing,” Collins said.