One Thousand Days Transformed - The Campaign for Cedarville

by Cara Groves

Every year, senior mechanical engineering students at Cedarville University complete a capstone project, a requirement before graduating. These projects allow the students to combine their book knowledge with practical skills they will use in their professional careers.

Throughout the years, projects have varied from building race cars and rockets to creating a medical device that can save a person’s life after experiencing a severed carotid artery — which is currently pending FDA approval.

But Jared Ritzo, a senior from Virginia Beach, Virginia, knew that he wanted to complete a project that had never been done successfully at Cedarville — building an underwater, remote-operated, vehicle (ROV).

His vision for the capstone project came into focus the summer before his senior year when Ritzo worked as an intern at Oceaneering, a global technology company in Houston, Texas, that specializes in underwater robotics. Throughout his internship, Ritzo saw firsthand the need for technological advancements for ocean conservation and exploration, so upon returning to Cedarville, he gathered a team of seniors interested in underwater robotics and pitched his capstone idea to his professors.

Cedarville’s Underwater Robotics Team is comprised of Ritzo, Ben Schultz (Metamora, MI), Daniel Cavallaro (Callaway, MD), Jackson Chairvolotti (New Hartford, CT) and Christopher Tooill (Sabina, OH), all senior mechanical engineering students, junior graphic design student Noah Lukinovich (Cedarville, OH), and Sarah Rhoades (Bellevue, OH), a senior marketing student.

“This was a very lofty capstone idea, one that would be difficult to accomplish because engineering students from previous years had tried to make an underwater robot for competition and failed in the preliminary stages,” said Ritzo. “Our team wanted to prove to everyone that it could be accomplished, and we were committed to making that a reality.”

Granted provisional approval by Dr. Tim Norman, distinguished professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, Ritzo recruited Dr. George Qin, associate professor of mechanical engineering as advisor for the project. Ritzo and his upstart engineering colleagues needed to find a pool that would allow them to test their ROV each week throughout the year. And Ritzo had a four-day deadline to secure the pool; otherwise, they would be required to select a different capstone project.

Under Water Robotics“Our time was limited, so we worked quickly to locate an indoor pool that we could use for testing during the academic year,” said Ritzo. “Kim Sheehan, executive director of the YMCA in Xenia, Ohio, agreed to let us use the pool every Thursday — if we exchanged our time for labor at the ‘Y.’”

The YMCA requested the robotics team meet with boy and girl scouts in the area and show them various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) designs, providing a chance for the team to share with the younger generation about a one-of-a-kind experience.

“We were excited about the opportunity to test our capstone project while also investing in the lives of young students,” said Ritzo. “This was a perfect scenario that allowed us to work on an incredible capstone project that could provide significant benefits, and at the same time, serve young students.”

With the pool requirement met and Qin confirmed as their mentor, the team of engineering students began building the underwater ROV. Instead of purchasing parts for the ROV, Ritzo’s team built everything from the ground up.

“Most professionals rely on the stainless-steel titanium alloys, monel and inconel, to build robots, or they buy a part that already exists,” Ritzo said. “For instance, we have a tether spool that we use to communicate with our robot in the water because it can’t be wireless. There’s a company that sells tether spools for hundreds of dollars, so we decided to build ours out of wood.”

The rest of the robot is built from raw materials like PVC, aluminum brackets and 3D-printed materials. Everything is connected with underwater wires — from the canister end to the rest of the robot. And now, the team has a fully functional robot that can move in the water and pick up various objects, all of which is controlled by a separate computer.

Now with a fully functioning robot, the team is preparing it for the National Underwater Robotics Competition (NURC) at Arizona State University in June. At NURC, Cedarville’s team will have 20 minutes to drive the robot through various tunnels underwater and grab three non-radioactive nuclear fuel rods that they will then have to put in a box and move to a specified location. The number of rods they grab and objectives they complete determines how many points the team gets — and the winner of the competition.

“Everything is done underwater and the pool will be dark. We can’t watch the robot, as we will be behind a curtain,” Ritzo said. “We operate the robot using only our computer screens and our controls, all which is away from the water.”

This competition is a unique experience for the team, and one that they surely will not forget.

“It’s really exciting Cedarville has a program that lets us make underwater robots,” Ritzo said. “We are very blessed.

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is a Baptist university with undergraduate programs in arts, sciences, and professional programs, and graduate programs. With an enrollment of 5,456 students in 175 areas of study, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio and is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, such as the Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, and high graduation and retention rates. For more information about the university, visit  

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