By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

During these tough economic times, it’s good to see that spending cutbacks haven’t left some STEM-focused programs for students scuttled.

In fact, some in the oil and gas sector are joining their peers and doing what they can to stimulate youngsters’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Subsea UK has entered a long-term partnership with Aberdeen, Scotland’s Robert Gordon University to extend the Scottish Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) ROV Challenge. In addition, ROVOP, a U.K. company that supplies subsea ROV services to the industry, is throwing in its support for the cause. Combined, efforts of the two as well as another new sponsor, will add about US$23,757 (£16,000) to the program, according to a news release.

The annual event, coordinated by the MATE Center in California and Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, will allow students to participate in an international competition to design underwater machinery and robotics, the release said. Winners of the April 2 competition in Scotland will advance to the international final in Newfoundland, Canada, to battle qualifiers from 24 other regions from across the world.

The initiative “aims to inspire future engineers through hands-on experience of designing [ROVs] used underwater in the oil and gas, defense, oceanology and marine renewables industries,” also has received support from BP and other oil and gas companies.

Subsea UK CEO Neil Gordon said that with the sharp decline in oil prices, many companies are re-evaluating their support for such educational initiatives.

“We are delighted that ROVOP has come alongside Subsea UK and BP to safe-guard this valuable program and give budding young engineers a real taste of the subsea industry,” Gordon said in a release. “The subsea industry must have a pipeline of engineers for the next generation and MATE ROV has proved that it engages pupils with industry in a compelling way.”

Doug Middleton, operations director at ROVOP, added, “We are excited to support the involvement of young people whose skills and ingenuity will drive the industry forward in future. We need efficiency and new ideas at a time when many companies are cutting investment.”

The program started in 2008 in Scotland. Since then, it has attracted participation from about 460 students from 29 schools. With the added support, others may join in the fun learning experience.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at