City Hill robotics team maneuvers to national event

City Hill Middle School robotics team members, from left, Neha Samuel, 13, Deena Soucie, 14 and Madeline Abate, 13, set up their robot for display March 23 at the school in Naugatuck. The team recently took first place at the state SeaPerch Robotics Competition in Plainville and will be heading to Atlanta for a national competition in May. –JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — A trio of City Hill Middle School students hope to make it to Georgia Tech in Atlanta this May.

By designing a winning remotely-operated vehicle that successfully maneuvered its way under water to first place earlier this month during the state’s SeaPerch Competition at Plainville High School, eighth-graders Neha Samuel, Madeline Abate and Deena Soucie secured a spot in SeaPerch’s national competition.

The challenge before them now is raising enough funds to make the trip in May. They need to raise $3,500 before April 21.

They are the first team from City Hill ever to take first place in the competition and one of the few all-girls teams to compete.

Two other City Hill teams placed second and third, said school technology educator Alison Stephen, who has run the after-school robotics club for three years.

The students explained that the main base of their robot was PVC piping. Starting with a shoebox-size kit of parts, they had to make measurements, cut the pipes, and do soldering to connect wires to the circuit board.

The students added things like pool noodles and used a 3D printer to design a hook to enable the robot’s arm to pick up objects.

The robot they design is supposed to be able to drive under water through many obstacles, Samuel said.

“It can’t be too small, or too big,” Soucie added.

It also couldn’t be so heavy that it sunk, and needed to have some floating ability, the students said.

“It was a lot of problem-solving,” Stephens said.

Abate and Samuel competed in the event last year. They described it as a learning experience. Soucie is new to the team this year.

“I’ve always been really interested in how things work and the moving parts of a giant robotic creature,” Soucie said. “We happened to make one. It’s like a dream come true.”

“To have the opportunity to be able to build something I can actually use, maybe drive and do things with was really exciting,” said Abate, who added, “I love working with my hands and building things.”

The SeaPerch program, a collaborative effort between the Office of Naval Research and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, seeks to give middle and high school students the opportunity to learn about robotics and science, technology, engineering and math, commonly referred to collectively as STEM.

Noting that STEM fields have typically been dominated by males, Stephens said, “We have a great shortage of female engineers.”

That is one reason why Stephens and City Hill Principal Eileen Mezzo said they were excited to see an all-girl team win in the competition.

“I love that all three winners are girls,” Mezzo said. “Ms. Stephens goes out of her way to make sure girls have same access to STEM as boys do.”

Those who are interested in helping the team raise funds for their trip can contact Mezzo at 203-720-5250 or visit the team’s GoFundMe page at