Sailing full STEAM ahead

Nothing beats the sound of the waves breaking, the wind howling and the water flowing peacefully as it skims off the sides of a sailboat into the expanse of unending ocean.

Boats that Brower and LMS students work on throughout the year. (Photo by Katie Carter)

Boats that Brower and LMS students work on throughout the year. (Photo by Katie Carter)

The soothing sounds of the sea encaptured Prentice Brower when he was young and to this day, are what allow him to escape into tranquility. Brower, known as Tripp to close friends and family, has spent the majority of his life on the water, teaching sailing lessons from the age of 13.

Sailing has been passed down through the Brower family tree; Brower’s grandfather sailed, his father sailed and his brother was the top sailor on the College of Charleston Sailing Team.

After graduating from the College of Charleston in 2012 with a degree in political science, Brower expressed an interest in building wooden boats. He was determined to succeed and even apprenticed as a wooden boat-builder for two years. Yet, behind the walls of the boat building yard, Brower felt isolated from his true passion.

“At the end of college, I was working on a boat at the time, but I was really focused on agriculture, especially Community Supported Agriculture (CSA),” Brower said.

As much as Tripp loves the water, nothing could match his true love of serving others. While building boats helped him develop an important skill, more importantly, it led him into something that would leave an indelible mark on his life forever.

“Working at the boat building yard one day, a coworker, Matthew Milling, came to the yard and mentioned how he started this nonprofit organization, he had the 501(c)(3) set up, but not really much else. Months later, I asked him about it, and he told me, take it,” Brower recalled.

From there, Brower’s life would forever be changed as the small organization,  Lowcountry Maritime Society or, LMS for short, would become an integral part of him. At 25 years old, Brower was now the head of a promising, new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) based community service organization.

Founded in 2014, this program was in its infant stages – it was up to Brower to research, develop and acquire all the necessary supplies and information to make this program a success. Long days and many long nights awaited Brower as he had to get this “boat into the water,” and find a way to present his vision to schools and donors.

“The basis behind [LMS] was that we cared about the Lowcountry, and we were looking for a way to emphasize it, a way to raise people’s awareness about how cool it is where we live.”

Charleston is unique in that it is surrounded by aquatic beauty on three sides. Coupled with a very significant maritime history, the ocean is an integral part of everyday life in the Holy City.

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Students participate in various aspects of the Lowcountry Maritime Society’s STEAM organization. (Photo by Katie Carter)

Lowcountry Maritime Society is based around students at two local middle schools, Sanders-Clyde and Simmons-Pinckney. The program specifically focuses on grades six through eight, an integral age where students often get left behind and then, unfortunately, struggle in high school.

Both schools are Title I schools, meaning that students come from low-income backgrounds, making many of the experiences in LMS a first for them. Though boat building is key, the most important aspect of LMS is the ability to tutor students in areas where their skills might not be up to par.

Students in LMS must spend the first hour of the program completing either homework or in-class assignments. Volunteers act as tutors and assist students that might need help on certain assignments or concepts that they might find difficult.

After the students complete their homework, the real fun begins. Students are able to go outside and work on their boats. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to apply math and science techniques into their everyday life.

Students are encouraged to help as much as possible, working with power-tools, glue guns, measuring tools, clamps, planes and even saws. During the process, students are aided by the expertise of site coordinators and volunteers, many of who hail from the College.

As Tripp explains, the partnership between LMS and the Honors College has truly elevated LMS to the next level, allowing the organization to hit new heights that were previously hard to envision.

“We want to continue our relationship with the Honors College, because that is huge; that has made the program. Without the volunteers, the programs would not be what they are today,” Browers said.

Looking toward the future, Brower has “grand” plans for Lowcountry Maritime Society, calling for its expansion and continued ability to improve its already solid foundations. He is planning to reach a third school in Charleston and working on a partnership with the YMCA to start LMS summer camps. While impressive, these programs pale in comparison to his ultimate goal.

“The goal is to have these programs from Georgetown, possibly all the way to Jacksonville, where we can have students who have been through these programs compete against each other in races. We want these programs to be constantly improving, so that they are always getting better and better.”

LMS has the opportunity to continue expanding and growing, as it is still in its formative stages. With a determined Brower at the helm and his resolute group of first mates, anything is possible. And with the continuous volunteer efforts from students at the College of Charleston, the only direction LMS can go is up.

*This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of The Yard 

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