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Virginia Education Leaders Meet with Navy STEM Planners

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | Oct. 19, 2016

For decades, students attending middle and high schools near Navy Warfare Center divisions made decisions to participate in Navy science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, positively impacting their lives, academics, and careers.

Now, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientists and engineers are working to make the same STEM opportunities available for students enrolled in school districts throughout the state of Virginia.

The STEM mentors briefed Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) representatives on the command’s STEM resources at a meeting held at the University of Mary Washington Dahlgren campus, Oct. 12.

John Wright, NSWCDD STEM coordinator, summarized Navy interest in STEM as seeking to maintain the nation’s technology edge in order prevent our warfighter from ever being in a fight were they don’t have a technology advantage. 

“Our goal is to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers in the United States that will continue to drive new technology advances and integrate them into Naval weapon systems,” said Wright.

Bridging the gap in awareness is a key to a successful STEM outreach. Joseph Fordham, public affairs officer with NSWCDD, and Beth Wise, a senior data management specialist at NSWCDD, put together the program in the hopes of raising awareness and bringing together key players in both organizations.

“We wanted the day to be a day of discovery where we could find the right areas to synchronize between Dahlgren and the Virginia Department of Education to purvey the Navy's STEM program state-wide, and eventually nationwide,” said Fordham.

He pointed out that Eric Rhodes, VDEO director of the office of science and health education, identified almost a dozen state programs that could dovetail nicely with the NSWCDD programs.

"Dahlgren is not just interested in grooming future scientists for hire at Dahlgren, the bigger picture is to ignite the imagination of young people and spark their interest in the sciences,” Fordham remarked.

One of the points brought up at the meeting was the fact that the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning graduate degrees in STEM studies fell five percent in 2014, according to the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. This year, more foreign graduates received STEM related advanced degrees than residents from U.S. universities.

“We have to turn this statistic around by removing the myths about these fields to the upcoming generation and show them they are capable of such endeavors," Fordham said.

For their part, Jean Weller, a VDOE instructional technology specialist, and Susan Clair, the VDOE learning infrastructure coordinator – impressed with the SeaPerch Program, Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP), Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP), and the annual STEM Summer Camp – are envisioning how various programs and resources can be implemented on a statewide level.

“It was really amazing to see the potential in a cooperative relationship,” Weller said. “We need to find ways to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from extending the reach of this program.”

Fordham provided a full day of information and demonstrations of the capabilities available through NSWCDD.

Aside from the SeaPerch and NREIP programs, NSWCDD provides local middle and high schools access to a group of scientists and engineers who strive to make STEM more accessible across the board. 

Retired NSWCDD senior research scientist Bob Stiegler stressed that it’s never too early to include the foundations of STEM in a child’s education.    

The group is seeking ways to get this message to further points in the state. Currently their reach includes eight local counties and ranges from the Eastern Shore to points west as far as Madison County and south to the Hampton Roads area. 

We plan to discover and partner with as many government, state, private industry and non-profits as possible to expand the reach of the programs we offer,” Fordham explained.

The group has a second meeting slated at Dahlgren in November and will follow up in the new year with two additional meetings in Richmond.

Fordham was pleased with the success of the Dahlgren STEM Roundtable Discussions with VDOE and looks forward to a successful partnership.

“The meeting proved extremely gratifying and we are looking forward to working with them as possible strategic partners as we make Dahlgren's STEM activities available to students statewide in the future,” said Fordham. “We would like to thank Eric Rhodes, Bobby Keener, and Susan Claire for being a part of these discussions and we look forward to working with them to ensure this centennial effort is used for the benefit of future eager students who wish to pursue STEM related occupations.”