Houston, mission accomplished!

Clatsop Community College's Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) team took fourth place in the missions portion of the national ROV competition in Houston, the team told the Clatsop Community College board during its regular meeting Thursday.

They're still waiting to hear their overall score but feel good about placing so high their very first time entering, physics instructor Pat Keefe said.

The group of maritime science, physics and technical writing students were at NASA's Johnson Space Center's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory last weekend to test their water-going, remote-controlled vehicle against other high schools, colleges and universities.

In industry, ROVs can be used for everything from counting fish to inspecting the bottom of a boat. The Clatsop ROV was designed to complete three underwater tasks: shutting a valve, dropping a communication probe in a hole and attaching a plate to a platform.

The team had five minutes to complete each mission and was able to do each one in less than two minutes, making Clatsop one of only five teams to complete all the missions on the first try.

"I'm very impressed with our students," Keefe said.

Keefe said the students had to contend with a number of things that went wrong. The tool bag didn't make it to Houston when the team did. When they put the ROV in the water the first time, something had changed and it wouldn't submerge. Pilot Jeff Doughty got turned around and tried to turn the valve the wrong way on the first mission, and he got lost and ended up going over to the wrong platform on another.

Still, they did much better than other teams, some of which put their ROVs in the water and couldn't make them work at all, said Brian Marshall, who spearheaded Clatsop's ROV design.

The students said they enjoyed seeing everyone else's ROV designs but came away satisfied with theirs.

"I think more people learned from our design than we learned from theirs," Doughty said. "Everyone had these crazy, complex designs, but simplicity for us was key."

Budget approved

Also during the meeting, the board unanimously passed a $16.9 million budget for the 2005-06 school year, closing a $358,000 gap resulting from decreases in state funding and changes in the way the state funds its 17 community college.

The budget includes a 2.58 percent cost of living increase for faculty, a 5 percent increase in health care, Public Employee Retirement System contributions and $150,000 in reserves.

The reserves account, money put aside for emergencies, was dangerously low, and the college's accrediting association told Clatsop it needed to save more.

The budget also allocates $500,000 for facilities improvements at the current campus on Jerome Avenue, part of an agreement with the college's accrediting agency that allows Clatsop to keep its accreditation while it pursues financing for a campus.

To help balance the budget, the board had earlier approved a $3 per credit tuition increase and laid off a faculty member. A social sciences instructor resigned after her position was reduced, and another instructor chose early retirement. The college is trying to increase its student to teacher ratio, making instruction more efficient.

New hire

In other news, Thomas Gill has been hired as the new dean of learning. Gill graduated from the University of Oregon with an MFA in theater arts/directing. His bachelors degree from the University of Wisconsin is also in theater arts. In addition, Gill has nearly completed an EdD in Educational Leadership and Higher Education Administration, which he pursued at Brigham Young University. Gill has been employed at the Institute for Extended Learning with the Community Colleges of Spokane since 1998. There he also served as the director of the prison education program and later as the chief academic officer.

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