Joining Hands 2019: An Expedition to American Samoa

Latest update August 27, 2019 Started on August 4, 2019

Join young explorers from rural Michigan as they Join Hands with students and teachers in American Samoa to explore the ocean, share knowledge, culture and a love of the ocean. Expedition dates are August 14-29, 2019.

In The Field

On Sunday we had a lunch at Moana O Sina with some of the staff from the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa and some staff from NOAA headquarters and Hawaii. While there, we ate some of the traditional Samoan foods that are served on a Sunday and explored the volcanic cliffs and tide pools.

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This morning we left the hotel bright and early to visit some of the local schools in American Samoa. We met with the local teachers, checked out some of their classrooms, and talked to them about integrating ROVs into their STEM curriculum. After visiting the three schools we headed back to the Ocean Center for a meeting with the American Samoa Department of Education, representatives from local businesses, and representatives from American Samoa Community College to discuss what is next for the island with ROVs and STEM integration, as well as what steps need to be taken to make the process as smooth and effective as possible. We finished the day at The Goat Cafe where we discussed future plans to travel back to American Samoa.

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This morning we went on a hike to a remote part of the island to snorkel. The hike there took about 20 minutes and we had the place all to ourselves for the morning.

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Today was the 5th and final day of the Joining Hands 2019 Teacher Workshop. The teachers were beyond excited to get the ROVs in the pool and demonstrate their products. There were a series of tasks or "missions" that the teachers had to complete, while judges sat alongside the pool and kept track of their points. Even though it was supposed to be a friendly competition, every team got really into it and were extremely focused, but also having a good time. After product demonstration we headed back to the Ocean Center to go over some ways to use what they've learned in the classroom. Then they presented to us their goals for integrating their newly found knowledge in their classrooms. Overall this week has been a great week of learning, collaborating, and finding new ways to enhance the STEM curriculum in American Samoa, and we are so grateful we could be apart of it.

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Today was the 4th day of the teacher ROV workshop. The morning started off with a lesson about buoyancy and how it applies to ROVs. Then every group got to calculate the buoyancy needed to keep their ROV neutrally buoyant and tested it in the pool until they got it just right. After lunch, we went over the missions that are to be completed in tomorrows product demonstration so tools could be added to the ROVs. They started out learning about the differences between hydraulics and pneumatics, and learned how to make hydraulic components for their ROV. Each group got a hydraulics kit that included tubing and two syringes, this allowed them to create a hydraulic gripper for their ROV. They were also shown how they could make tools for missions with simple everyday things, such as, clothes hangers, hair clips, combs, and leftover plastic. When everyone had finished putting their tools on their robots they were able to practice the missions in the pool to prepare for tomorrow.

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After the workshop the National Marine Sanctuary staff, ourselves, and other visitors headed out to Tisa's Barefoot Bar that overlooks the ocean, for a traditional Umu feast. Before dinner we witnessed a Parrotfish and Eel swimming along the shore. Preparation for the meal takes all day, including heating up rocks to build an oven with. The food is put inside of the hot rocks or on top of them and is then covered up by many layers of leaves to ensure that no heat escapes. Our meal included lamb, turkey, ham, pork, pumpkin, breadfruit, bananas, papayas, coconuts with tarot leaves, and fish with coconut cream sauce. It was very delicious and gave us a taste of what a lot of families prepare and eat on Sundays in American Samoa.

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This morning marked day 3 of the Joining Hands 2019 Teacher Workshop, where the teachers spent all day putting together their control boxes. Putting their newly gained soldering skills to the test, the teachers soldered their circuit boards to start off the day. After finishing their circuit boards, they connected their switches to their circuit boards by crimping the wires with connectors. Finally they soldered their motors and tether together and put the motors on their frame. By the end of the day each team of teachers had a fully functioning ROV!

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Today was the first day of the ROV workshop with the teachers of American Samoa. We started the day with breakfast where we were getting to know everyone and eventually went inside the Ocean Center for formal introductions and an overview of the day. All of the teachers were able to get the feel of using ROVs by building the MATE foundation's ROV in a bag. After lunch we split the teachers into pairs and each received a tool kit. They then sketched their ROV designs on paper and started building the frame, testing it in a small pool we set up outside and tweaking it as needed. Tomorrow they are going to start the electronics and control box component. We are all looking forward to the rest of the week and the product demonstration at the end.

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Day 2 of the ROV workshop was today. The teachers worked on circuits, soldering and preparing to put their control box together. It was exciting to see the teachers passion for gaining knowledge to better help their students be successful. We are really to seeing what tomorrow holds!

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This morning we headed to the Ocean Center to finish preparations for the Joining Hands 2019 Teacher Workshop. We unboxed the rest of the equipment and got the Ocean Center ready for the teachers arrival. After packing up for the day, we headed back to the hotel and hit the water for some kayaking. We paddled along the reefs in Pago Pago Harbor and captured video of the interesting fish and coral, finding several schools, and even spotting a sea turtle that sadly swam away before we could get a picture. We finished the day with shell hunting and dinner, and are excitedly counting down the hours until the workshop tomorrow.

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We first met at the restaurant next to the hotel to discuss our plans for the day. Then, we drove around the island and got lots of picture and video footage of the Island's scenery. We later drove back to the hotel, got ready and hopped in the water for a short snorkel. During our time underwater we saw lots of cool fish surrounding the surface of the coral and we even saw a blue starfish! Now, we are enjoying dinner at the Goat Island Cafe and enjoying our own ocean view. Tomorrow we plan to finish setting up for the workshop that will begin on Monday.


We flew in from Honolulu, Hawaii and arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa on Thursday evening. After getting checked in at Sadies by the Sea we settled for the night. Our whole team was up and ready at 6:00 this morning for a radio interview at the local radio station where our mentor, Robert Richards and InvenTeam member, Sylvia Whitt talked about the work we will be conducting in the upcoming weeks. After, we went to the Ocean Center to talk about future plans and the expectations we need to meet with the staff of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. The teacher ROV workshop will start Monday morning, so there was a lot of work to be done. The majority of the day was spent putting together all the supplies that will be needed for each group in the workshop as well as troubleshooting all of the ROV kits that we left for the students during Joining Hands 2018. Later this evening we spent the time exploring the Sadies by the Sea property and scenery.

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I am flattered and beyond excited to be able to go back to American Samoa and be apart of Joining Hands 2019! It is a great oppurtunity to help the teachers in American Samoa to further their knowledge of ROVs and STEM, and I can't wait to check in with the participants of Joining Hands 2018 to see all the progress they've made on their ROVs. Currently we are in Honolulu, Hawaii, and are excited to travel to American Samoa later tonight.

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I had a wonderful first experience in American Samoa during Joining Hands 2018, and I am really excited to go back and continue our outreach goals for Joining Hands 2019! I've stayed in touch with some of the folks from the National Marine Sanctuary and I look forward to seeing them again on Thursday. Relationships like these have really meant a lot to me over the years! Today we are making the final packing preparations to leave for American Samoa. In the morning we will depart to the airport and begin our return to American Samoa to be apart of Joining Hands 2019!

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Expedition Background

Following up on the success of Joining Hands 2018, the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center at Monterey Peninsula College in partnership with MATE Inspiration for Innovation, the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS), American Samoa Department of Education (DOE), American Samoa Community College (ASCC) and Stockbridge High School (SHS) will conduct an educator workshop and planning meeting of American Samoa educators, government agencies and employers to develop ideas to: 1) improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education; 2) define and improve educational and career pathways into science, technology and engineering; and 3) infuse entrepreneurship into the curriculum.


  1. Run a 5-day PufferFish ROV Workshop for 24 faculty from American Samoa high schools and ASCC.
  2. Visit high schools to understand the level of resources that are available to support robotics activities and the additional resources that may be needed.
  3. Visit America Samoa Community College and meet with faculty and administrators to discuss how a MATE robotics program can lead to pathways into science, technology and engineering.
  4. Host a meeting with American Samoa government agencies and employers and assess the level of interest and support for underwater robotics (marine issues to address, hosting a MATE ROV competition, volunteering to mentor students ROV teams, volunteering at the competition, offering internships)
  5. Assess the potential for collaboration between K-14 intuitions, gov’t and the private sector to support, contribute to, modify, and take ownership of the Draft Vision.

Draft Vision: Create a network of Pacific Island schools that:

  1. Use underwater robotic learning activities to provide pathways to higher education and careers in science, technology, and engineering (address the NGSS; form partnerships & pathways between elementary, secondary, and college; and partnerships with employers)
  2. Participate in the MATE ROV Competition (form “companies”, project management, entrepreneurship, cutting edge technologies and the application of these technologies to solving real-world problems, etc.)
  3. Use underwater robotic vehicles to address problems relevant to American Samoa (science, conservation, tourism, engineering, etc.) Learn to think like entrepreneurs.
  4. Interact and share ideas (experiences, engineering designs, how to’s) with schools on the mainland U.S.

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