As their coach, he taught them the Archimedes’ Principal of buoyancy.

Girls work on a robot
Science Team ECH worked hard to build
the Remotely Operated Vehicle for a SeaPerch Challenge.

As his team, they taught him the importance of breaks for bananas, grapes, and bubblegum when you’ve been hard at work. He taught them how to solder and waterproof motors.

They taught him how to relieve stress with laughter—frequent laughter.

He tested them on robotics. They tested his patience.

In the end, what the coach and the kids learned from each other was the importance of working together and sharing pride in their accomplishments.

With the financial support of the Asotin Lions in Washington, Lion Rob Setlow, a retired U.S. Air Force

The award-winning ROV was built from PVC pipe by the team of seventh-grade girls with the help of Asotin Lion Rob Setlow.

electronic warfare officer and retired CIA project manager, spent Saturday mornings for the last year introducing three seventh-grade girls to the world of robotics. Now the award-winning Science Team ECH is using their newly found skills to do environmental studies at a local marina, building a website, and planning to share the fun of hands-on science with younger students.

Science Team ECH is the creation of Ella Tretheway, 12, Claire Ledgerwood, 12, and Hannah Aiken, 13, best friends who met as toddlers and stayed together even though they attend different schools in the Asotin area. With Setlow’s guidance they built a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that performs tasks underwater, earning them third place in the virtual 2021 International SeaPerch Challenge pool event. SeaPerch is an underwater robotics program for elementary, middle school, and high school students in the U.S. and more than 35 countries.

The girls who volunteered for the undertaking met with Setlow at a parent’s workshop, then at the Asotin Family Aquatic Center where they built the ROV from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and connectors.

Three girls in front of Clarkson sign
Best friends and now Science Team ECH: Hannah Aiken, Claire Ledgerwood, and
Ella Tretheway at the Port of Clarkston.

Competition rules required that it be able to complete four tasks in two minutes, all recorded on video and submitted to the judges for scoring. They included opening the ROV disposal vault, disarming a “mine” and moving it to the vault before closing it, then moving sunken debris to the disposal area, and moving floating debris out of an area on the surface.

For tweens already busy with music, dance, language learning, and babysitting, this was a new challenge that came with both hesitation and frustration.

But they would do it again, they say.

They are already planning to compete in the SeaPerch regionals in Washington this spring, hoping it leads them to international competition in Maryland next summer.

“I think it was exciting to put some of the knowledge we have of science to use in a fun way,” says Claire. “But it took some determination. We really did have to work at it to build our ROV to do what it had to do.”

Lions and Team ECH on a boat
Asotin Lion Don Alexander steered his fishing boat as Lion Rob Setlow explained sonar technology.

“What was most enjoyable, was getting to do something ‘sciency’ and accomplish something with my best friends,” says Ella. “It took patience.” She pauses and her voice becomes more serious. “It took a lot of patience for Rob.” Her teammates burst into laughter.

“Really, our coach has done so much,” says Hannah. “We couldn’t have done this without the support of the Lions. But we definitely could not have done it without Rob.”

A STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) advocate, Setlow grew up in a family with a calling to support science education, he says. “We’re all geeks.”

In 2006, he and his three siblings established the Charles R. and Louise V. Setlow Memorial Science Scholarship for the Advancement of Science Education, promoting science education in memory of their parents.

Girls work on Robotics
Science Team ECH studied the principles of
buoyancy to take their ROV from the pool to the Snake River.

He never aspired to make engineers out of these girls, but he is pleased, he says, that each girl found her niche, and how the girls put their talents together to form a successful collaborative work environment. “That’s a life skill,” says Setlow. “I’m thankful they did well with their project, coming together as a team, and I’m very proud of them.”

“We [the parents who all have careers in science] get it. We all know how hard it can be for 12- and 13-year-old girls, and how important it is that they get these experiences,” says Hannah’s mother, Rachel Jameton, who is a chemist.

Twelve and 13 are key for when students either feel like they are included in science or discluded. It’s a pivotal time when girls in particular might feel like science isn’t the right place for them. We are thankful that Rob is so invested and [we are] so thankful for his good humor. He has some real ability to give them the freedom to have fun but also make sure they’re getting the tasks done.”

SeaPerch Robot
The SeaPerch ROV was modified by adding 2 cameras and larger motors/thrusters to inspect the marina bottom and selected pilings for the Port of Clarkston.

With the help of another Asotin Lion, Don Alexander, his 14-foot fishing boat, and his sonar technology (or “fish finder”), the SeaPerch award was just the beginning for Science Team ECH.

They have a new mission at the Port of Clarkston on the Snake River, using an underwater camera they added to the ROV to inspect pilings, measure depth, and map the bottom of the marina, locating shallow spots where dredging is being considered.

This new project meant rebuilding their model with a bigger motor and longer tether because it was originally designed to work in a pool, not a river. In return, the marina paid them US$300 that they chose to put toward the camera.

Wanda Keefer, executive director of the Port of Clarkston, says it’s been fun teaming up with the talented young scientists. She appreciates their completed surveys as the port sets strategies for future improvements.

“We really want to celebrate these young ladies, their opportunities, the perspective they brought, and their ability to work as a team,” says Keefer. “It’s exciting that they were able to turn this into a practical application. They’ve worked very hard.”

Follow Science Team ECH at