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Middle School Students Respond To Navy 'STEM' Challenge
by John Joyce, Naval Surface Warfare Center
April 20, 2018

Freedom Middle School students – responding to a challenge by Navy scientists and engineers – had four months to prepare their technological projects before face to face meetings and evaluations took place, January 25, 2018.

The challenge was spelled out in an open letter to the students in September 2017. In response, the advanced physical science students took action by applying every word of sage advice, earnestly and enthusiastically.

“As scientific professionals in the ‘real world’, we wanted to share with you what we have experienced when presenting technical information to our colleagues,” the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) judges explained as they coached the students on the five P’s – preparation, presentation, polish, passion, and pragmatism.

“Try to anticipate what the judges will ask about your project and have those answers ready,” the NSWCDD scientists and engineers recommended in their letter, advising the students to be ready for questions such as: “Why do you think you saw this anomaly in your data? How did you decide to focus on this topic? What do you want people to learn from your topic? What is the real-world value of your project?”

Moreover, the students were encouraged to choose a topic they are passionate about that has real-world applicability. “Carry this passion into the career you choose,” advised the judges, “and you will do great things – because it matters to you, and people will recognize that in your tone of voice, in your animation, in the look in your eyes, in your smile.”

Indeed, the 12 Dahlgren judges saw just how passionate and serious the students – many aspiring scientists and engineers – were about their projects at the Freedom Middle School Science Fair.

“I'd like to say that we think of ourselves as mentors to the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers,” said Kathryn Dawson, an NSWCDD Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) software development project manager, after judging projects and mentoring students at the event. “We derive tremendous satisfaction from our careers and we want to plant the seeds for students to consider challenging themselves with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) classes as they move up in their education, so that they too can see themselves obtaining STEM degrees and pursuing such careers.”

In all, 108 students presented a whopping 88 STEM projects in three categories: earth and space, life science and biology, and physical science.

“We truly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with, encourage, and hopefully inspire the scientists and engineers of the future,” said Steve Kintzel, SLBM principal targeting systems engineer at NSWCDD. “There is nothing more inspiring than to see the excitement of the students as they explain the details of their projects to the judges.”

“It was exciting to see so much brain power in one room,” said Freedom Middle School Principal Eric Wright. “It was encouraging to see professionals give back to the schools in a way that encourages our kids to enter the STEM fields. Our students appreciated the thoughtful questions and appreciation shown for all of their hard work.”

The winning students and their projects in the earth and space category were: first place – Samantha Quillen for presenting, "Regional Differences in Water Quality"; second place – Emilee Imler for briefing, “Life on Mars"; and third place – Calvin Campbell for explaining, "Wing Angles."

January 30, 2018 – The 15 students recognized for placing first, second, third, and honorable mention at the 2018 Freedom Middle School Science Fair are pictured with school officials. They were among 108 students who presented 88 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics projects in three categories: earth and space, life science and biology, and physical science. The students briefed their projects to 15 judges – including 12 scientists and engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division – who interviewed and mentored the students while evaluating their projects. Students pictured left to right on the first row (bottom) are: Samantha Quillen, Emilee Imler, Kaitlyn Bestick, and Hannah Lowery. Second row: Rachel Margelos, Caleb Caison, and Regan Bestick. Third row: Gavin White, Calvin Campbell, Areanna Jess, and Garrett Peck. Fourth row: Daniel Fordham, Hailey Gibson, Phoebe Awan, and M’Laya Ainsworth. Freedom Middle School officials pictured in the top row: Advanced Science Teacher Linda Lapp, Vice Principal Dwan Barnes Gaines, Principal Dr. Eric Wright, and ‎Physical Science Teacher Mendy Owen. (Photo by Stacia Courtney, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division)

“As someone who has tutored and mentored middle school and high school students in math over the years, I love to see the proverbial 'light bulb' go off in the minds of students,” said Lance Batson, a Dahlgren SLBM systems engineer. “This was indeed the case during last week's science fair. It was such an honor to give back and encourage the students in their quest to explore the various sciences. Also, as an African-American engineer, I know the vital importance of students of color seeing someone who looks like them in the STEM field. In this way, these students can be inspired to pursue STEM careers of their own, and can realize that the sky is the limit for them.”

The winning students and their projects in the life science and biology category were: first place – Rachel Margelos for answering the question, “Which is more Effective at Killing Bacteria – Antibacterial Liquid Soap or Hand Sanitizer”; second place – Kaitlyn Bestick for explaining, “The Effect of Different Exercise Types on Calories Burned and Rate of Perceived Exercise"; and third place – Regan Bestick for presenting, “The Effect of Throwing Style on Accuracy."

“It was a great experience to see our future scientists,” said Bridgette Trent, who supports the SLBM program as an NSWCDD scientist. “The students were very energetic and professional in presenting their projects. It was very interesting to hear of the career paths that many plan to take – biomedical engineer, astronaut, air traffic controller, meteorologist. Also, it was great to hear one student talk about being inspired by the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ and how the hidden figures worked with the computers and performed the calculations for the space program.”

The winning students and their projects in the physical science category were: first place – Areana Jess for briefing, “Catapult in Action"; second place – Hailey Gibson for answering the question, “What Ingredients Cause the Tallest Reaction"; and third place – Hannah Lowery for answering the question, “Does Surface Temperature Affect the Ability to Draw Fingerprints".

Jon Alty, an NSWCDD senior SLBM employment engineer, was joined this year as a judge by his daughter Kathryn Alty, an NSWCDD software developer.

“Students were genuinely excited about their projects and eager to share what they learned,” said Jon. “Many had thoughts on how they can see alternatives to their procedure or approach showing critical thinking and a desire to improve their project. I asked several students if they have a favorite subject that they'd like to pursue. Many students have plans to pursue science degrees. Unexpectedly, one student answered, ‘Oh, I don't know. I have so many interests.’”

“One student was highly interested in aerodynamics,” said Kathryn. “His project evaluated the effect of wind direction on a plane's travel distance. He plans on attending Virginia Tech in this field. It is astonishing that these students have such direction at a young age. I see a great future for these students and with the practice of demonstration and evaluation, they will continue to thrive in STEM.”

“The staff at Freedom Middle School was equally inspiring,” Jon added. “The teachers were energized and enthusiastic about how much the students learned, and there was an obvious comradery among the teachers.”

In addition to the Dahlgren judges, there were three other judges – a local high school teacher, an engineer from Naval Research Laboratory, and the spouse of one of the teachers.

“The science fair provides an exciting opportunity for our students to meet and interact with high level STEM professionals in the local community,” said Kris Kintzel, algebra readiness teacher at the middle school, and the wife of Steve Kintzel.

“Students are surprised to realize what they have in common with the judges and start to envision themselves in STEM careers,” said Linda Lapp, advanced science teacher at the middle school.

The students recognized with honorable mention and their projects in the earth and space category were: Garrett Peck for presenting, "The Impact of Wing Shapes on Rocket Flight," and Daniel Fordham for his briefing on, "Cleansing the Baikal Lake”.

The students recognized with honorable mention and their projects in the life science and biology category were: Gavin White for answering the question, “Does Microwave Radiation Affect Plant Growth," and M’Laya Ainsworth for presenting, “Distract and React”.

The students recognized with honorable mention and their projects in the physical science category were: Phoebe Alan for answering the question, “How do the Ingredients in Bath Bombs affect the Fizziness," and Caleb Caison for his project, entitled, “Carburetor versus Electronic Fuel Injection ATV Motor”.

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