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Case Study


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Design, prototype and deliver an educational program based around electrical engineering and underwater exploration for the Royal New Zealand Navy, to be delivered to girls aged 17-18 as part of their inaugural ‘School to Seas’ program.


A hands-on education program in which young women designed, built, wired and tested their own underwater robots (Remotely Operated Vehicles or ROVs), then used them in a simulated underwater rescue mission, the ROV Challenge.

New Zealand needs more women in the maritime domain as engineers, technicians and operators. School to Seas is a program giving young female students a chance to gain skills and experience in marine engineering, technical and leadership operations. 

Nanogirl Labs, working with Pilot Productions, designed an underwater engineering and education module as part of School to Seas. We created a practical, hands-on electrical engineering challenge for the program participants, which also taught underwater physics, teamwork and problem-solving skills. 

Female representation in the New Zealand Defence Force has been increasing over the past 15 years and women now make up 15% of the NZDF workforce overall, and 20% of the Naval workforce. Despite these advances, women are still under-represented in technical and leadership careers within the NZDF. Across the NZDF, only 6% of officers in operations branches are women. The School to Seas Program is aimed specifically at women, as part of a strategy to decrease the existing gender diversity gap.

School to Seas encourages a class of 32 young women to have a taste of life at Devonport Naval Base, and empowers them to develop self-confidence in a safe environment, mentored by a team of female Naval engineers. Nanogirl Labs specifically designed our ROV Challenge program for School to Seas to be exciting, collaborative and relevant to Naval careers, encouraging the participants to understand how the Navy uses the same technology and ideas, on a larger scale, in their operations. 

The first group of students through the program rated it a huge success, and their positive experiences have led to outcomes, including an engineering internship with a New Zealand ROV company, entry to the Navy marine engineering school, and many applications to study engineering at university. 

Dr Kate Sparks from the Nanogirl Labs team led the design of the education program. Dr Sparks is a marine scientist and science communicator, and was on-site to watch the young women build and pilot their own ROVs.


“ROVs are used for underwater exploration all over the world. It was great for the girls to see the huge ROVs on the HMNZS Manawanui, and to understand that the concepts they were learning - like buoyancy, electrical engineering and propulsion - are the same concepts that drive the Navy’s ROV teams on real-life rescue and humanitarian missions.”


Dr Kate Sparks, Nanogirl Labs


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