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Middle School Students Join Navy Technologists to Solve STEM Problems
(July 14, 2010)

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DAHLGREN, Va. (NNS) -- Middle school students used their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to solve problems of Navy interest at the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP) Summer Academy from June 28 to July 2 in Dahlgren, Va.

More than 90 students joined mentor volunteers - Navy scientists and engineers - at the summer camp to work on STEM activities and projects impacting eight simulated naval robotic missions at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren, a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command.

"Providing hands-on activities in an environment with teachers and subject matter experts promoting STEM careers is a great opportunity for our area middle school students," said Jane Bachman, summer camp director and NSWC Dahlgren advanced concepts and payloads engineer. "It was exciting to see students' interest in STEM careers continue to build throughout the week."

Navy and NDEP officials anticipate that the students may one day use their STEM skills at NSWC laboratories to design future technologies supporting U.S. warfighters and America's homeland defense and security.

"The NDEP VDP's goal is to increase the attraction of the Navy's warfare centers and shipyards as an eventual place of employment for the students participating in the program," said Bob Stiegler, NDEP VDP program manager. "Experience to date has shown that students can be attracted to and retained in engineering programs if they are exposed early to the joys of creation through design, discovery through research and invention through hands-on experimentation."

Throughout the event, 17 science teachers from the greater King George, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and Fredericksburg area school systems challenged students with scenarios mimicking real engineering problems such as land mine clearing, oil spills over a coral reef and using sonar to map an ocean floor.

The teachers teamed with NSWC Dahlgren mentors who shared valuable insight with the students who worked on technological solutions to save fictional lives and deliver humanitarian aid.

"It is important to provide encouragement and stimulation to our young people regarding the field of science," said Bachman. "The working environment experience where students can sense the why, what and how things are done through interaction with scientists and engineers can benefit them when making their future career decisions."

NDEP VDP originated under the Office of Naval Research (ONR) N-STAR (Naval Research - Science and Technology for America's Readiness), a science and technology workforce development program launched in 2004 by ONR. It was initiated to show a diversity of pre-teens and teens that STEM are fascinating, fun and socially relevant.

The program teams up teachers with practicing scientists and engineers from the mentor-rich environment at NSWCs. During the school year, science and math themes featuring robotics problems were integrated throughout the curriculum.

Moreover, the College of William and Mary impacted VDP and the summer camp by developing a curriculum for students who learn about STEM at military bases and providing training to NSWC mentors. NDEP's VDP process is more than students learning how to program robots or build, assemble and demonstrate the projects. It's also about team building and is all inclusive.

"We teach teamwork and how to communicate with each other and how to share ideas so that their skills come out while having a lot of fun," said Stiegler. "The goal is to get them all interested in mathematics and science."

Since its inception, VDP's ultimate goal has been to establish educational outreach programs at other Navy research and development centers throughout the country.

The initiative could eventually expand beyond the Navy and evolve into a national demonstration project encompassing all Department of Defense laboratories in a sustained effort to secure the long-term competitiveness of America's science and technology workforce by hooking more kids on math and science at an earlier age. As a result, the number of students earning university degrees in STEM is expected to exponentially increase.

By John J. Joyce
Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Public Affairs
Copyright 2010

Reprinted from Navy News Service

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