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NEWS | April 24, 2014

Judges Praise Navy-Mentored STEM Students with Awards - and a Poem

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communicaitons

FAIRFAX. Va. -- What do Dancing with the Stars and American Idol competitors have in common with hundreds of rival middle and high school students vying to win a place at the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis April 23-26?

Fascination, social significance and the thrill of competition keep contestants coming back for more.

What's more, the dancers, singers and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students come back to face a panel of judges.

While celebrity reality TV judges are famous for their entertainment, STEM-minded judges at FIRST Robotics Competitions are known for their scientific and low-key style.

Until the recent 2014 Greater Washington D.C. Regional, that is.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) judges added a new dimension to their STEM personas, March 29-30.

The judges creatively and poetically heaped praise on the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD)-mentored FIRST Team 339 Kilroy at George Mason University's Patriot Center.

In honor of Kilroy's Industrial Design Award sponsored by General Motors, the judges wrote a poem to recognize the team.

"There once was a team that came from multiple places,
Inventing a clean and elegant robot from distributed bases.
In the D.C. Regional with confidence they came,
But alas, they were pushed around looking so tame.
Some changes were needed as they were bent out of shape,
But low and behold, their modular design worked better than duct tape.
Rod and wheel swapping was simple and done with such joy.
The winner of Industrial Design - here is Kilroy!"

The Industrial Design Award celebrates form and function in an efficiently designed machine that effectively addresses the game challenge. The team's product and process reflected the mission of FIRST, by demonstrating sound technology development from start to finish, according to the judges.

Kilroy - sponsored by the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) - includes high school students from Virginia's Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George Counties who competed against 49 teams at the regional event.

Students designed and built a robot, up to 5 feet tall and can weigh no more than 120 pounds, for the March 29-30 competition within six weeks.

This year's game was called "Aerial Assist," and requires the robots to shoot exercise balls through goals.

"Aerial Assist is more than just a game," said Jim Smith, an NSWCDD computer engineer and one of the team's mentors. "The FIRST Robotics Competition gives students the support they need to start a STEM career."

Smith is among scores of NSWCDD scientist and engineer volunteers who work with teachers to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders by engaging them in exciting STEM programs such as FIRST.

Kilroy finished 5th in qualification matches and participated in elimination matches as captain of the 4th seeded alliance. Judges also recognized Kilroy as one of the top three "Safe Teams" with the Hard Hat Pin Award.

"We are proud of our students' efforts," said Smith. "It's important to remember that their awards are only the beginning. The skills students develop on a FIRST team will empower them to begin STEM careers that may include contributions to the nation and the warfighter, possibly at NSWC Dahlgren Division or similar commands throughout the Department of Defense."

NSWCDD mentors are also proud of FIRST Team 2402, better known as the RoboJackets, who competed at the FIRST Robotics Virginia Regional Competition.

"FIRST robotics brings science and engineering to life," said Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Va., who attended the Virginia Regional, calling it "one of the best spectator events in town."

The RoboJackets, representing James Monroe High School and Walker-Grant Middle School located in Fredericksburg, Va., competed against 64 teams at the event, held in Virginia Commonwealth University's Siegel Center, March 20-22.

Neither Kilroy nor RoboJackets qualified to compete at the FIRST Robotics World Championship this year, but the students have big plans for future competitions as they continue to learn and grow in STEM.

"We placed 39 out of 64 teams with our highest rank of the weekend in the top 20," said one of the team's mentors, Marin Kobin, an NSWCDD computer scientist. "This year, we took 10 students to the regional - eight who were rookies and four still in middle school. The students also learned this year about strategizing and building a team image. We can't wait to see how much more this group can accomplish as they continue to grow and learn with the FIRST progression of programs."

The RoboJackets will host a FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST LEGO League off-season event at James Monroe High School, May 10.

NDEP videos filmed on location at NSWC Dahlgren give students a better idea of what it's like to work in a STEM career field engaged with exciting technologies that protect our nation and warfighters. For an insight to these high interest STEM-centered videos, see:

Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense:

Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense:

More CBR Defense:

More Human Systems Integration: