The SeAL Challenge: A robotic program for high school students

SeAL Challenge

The Sea Air and Land Challenge (the SeAL Challenge) is a nationwide STEM initiative to introduce high school students to engineering through designing and building a robotic system relevant to the Department of Defense (DoD). Funded by the Office of Naval Research and coordinated by Penn State University’s Applied Research Labs, the SeAL Challenge provides the opportunity for students to tackle a problematic engineering task along with educators and engineering mentors while in high school and learn about careers in or using robotics.

In addition, students will learn about some of the tremendous career opportunities available to them in or supporting the military and DoD. It also helps school administrators and educators implement fun and successful STEM course into their curriculum. An optional free detailed one-semester curriculum is available.

During the spring semester, teams of 3-10 students design and build a robotic system to compete in the challenge of their choice. Students may design and build unmanned vehicles and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads to compete in the challenge of their choice during this twelve to sixteen weeks period. Teams may build submersibles for the Sea Challenge, drones for the Air Challenge, or rovers for the Land Challenge. Near the end of the semester, students come together on Challenge Day to learn about careers and compete. The challenges are designed by engineers at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory and by some of the country’s finest Navy SEALs and Green Berets.

There are 10 challenges scheduled for this spring in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Teams may choose any region to join in. Educators and students may learn more at or by emailing School districts may also choose to start their own region. Guidelines for each Challenge can be found under Support Docs, found on the top white bar on the SeAL Challenge homepage.

Teams may be formed from in-school classes, after-school groups, homeschooled and cyber schooled students, clubs, scouts, 4-H, and other youth organizations. Each team of 3-10 students will need an educator or advisor. If requested, each team will also be paired with a volunteer engineering mentor to help bridge the gap between math and sciences you are familiar with and the engineering process and lingo.

Several benefits of this program include its accessibility (web-based and no cost to register nor for program materials) and support from volunteer engineering mentors and Navy SEALs and Special Ops. Students may spend up to $500 on their open-sourced robotic system, showing students how to raise funds. All Challenges to date have been met with great enthusiasm, and 94% of the students said this program improved their understanding of the engineering process, and 100% of the teachers said they would like to participate again next year.