A national underwater robotics competition was held in Kingsport Saturday.

At the Kingsport Aquatics Center, high schools students across the country put science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to the test.

It was for a Tennessee Regional M.A.T.E. (Marine Advanced Technology Education) Underwater Robotics Competition.

Dennis Courtney, director of STREAMWORKS, said this competition gives students an opportunity to gain real life experience.

“We have teams from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, that have come to Kingsport this week to compete in this underwater robotics competition,” Courtney said. “The kids have to go in and they have to perform different challenges underneath the water, where they will have to salvage an underwater aircraft that has crashed.”

Courtney said these teams of students have spent the last three months building and designing these robots to be presented to a panel of judges.

Gavin Bentley, a sophomore at Dobyns-Bennett Excel said this program has sparked his interest in STEM.

“I was never good at math but after getting into M.A.T.E., I’m coming out with solid straight A’s in math now,” Bentley said. “It’s my favorite subject now, I love it.”

He said he plans to continue his education after high school to become a naval engineer.

“I’ve grown to love project management, I mean I love the math,” Bentley said. “I love the problem solving too.”

Courtney said educational programs like this one give students step ahead in the industry.

“It’s about workforce development and how you can change a kid’s life by giving them some real industry work experience, because that’s what our workforce needs,” Courtney said.

According to Courtney, the winners of Saturday’s competition were students from Dobyns-Bennett Excel. Now, the they will head to Federal Way in Washington this June to compete in M.A.T.E.’s 18th Annual International ROV Competition.

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