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NEWS | Sept. 2, 2021

Navy awards 19 robotics grants to 15 Bay County Schools

By Katherine Mapp NSWC PCD Public Affairs

The Navy Lab in Panama City recently facilitated the award of 19 robotics grants to 15 Bay County Schools in the District.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to facilitate the award of robotics grants to schools who are taking part in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League robotics program this academic year. 

To foster a culture of innovation and collaboration, NSWC PCD provides mentors and coaches to support each team as they prepare to compete in the District competition in January 2022. 

Chris Voorheis, STEM outreach coordinator at NSWC PCD, said providing this opportunity to the schools increases and encourages STEM education at all levels.

“Awarding these FIRST grants has a profound impact because it allows us to expand the Navy Lab’s K-12 STEM enrichment into rural and underserved areas of Bay County, teaching concepts like automation, computer science, and robotics,” said Voorheis.  “The mission of our STEM Outreach Program is to enrich STEM education across Northwest Florida by increasing hands-on STEM experiences, partnering with DoD STEM and FIRST allows us to accomplish this. Directly supporting these types of initiatives also ensures the Navy Lab remains a model organization and a future employer of choice for our local students.”

Kelley Hodges, STEM teacher at Patronis Elementary School, said students in K-12 science are expected to develop many skills throughout their education, including process skills, such as observation, predicting, experimenting, and communicating. With these skills, they are expected to become problem solvers and people who can identify solutions to complex problems through the use of STEM principles.

 “The FIRST Lego League grants provided through DoD STEM give teachers and students robots and curriculum that support students as they learn new skills, such as coding, and as they develop their ability to identify problems and develop meaningful solutions,” said Hodges. “Perhaps the most valuable tool for teachers is a component embedded within the FIRST Lego League mission, which is to encourage students to be inclusive, to collaborate, and to communicate through teamwork and gracious professionalism. These skills are at the heart of STEM education and something students will take with them into their adult years.”

Hodges said she and her students are excited to put the grants into action through STEM learning.

“I was thrilled to receive a DoD STEM grant and so excited for our students. Knowing that I can bring quality STEM education to my students is a great feeling,” said Hodges. “Our students love having the opportunity to design, create, and innovate and they especially love working together to learn about robotics and coding. Teaching STEM is one of the most rewarding parts of my job, it is a window into how students think, create, and learn. Grants like this allow teachers, like me, to bring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to students from every background.”

The grants encourage and promote an interest of STEM education from an early age to develop the STEM professionals of tomorrow.  

 “The DoD STEM FIRST Robotics Grants allow DoD to provide meaningful STEM learning opportunities for students and educators in PreK–12, while also increasing awareness about DoD STEM education and workforce development programs, activities and outreach,” said Director of DoD STEM Louie Lopez. “DoD STEM funding allows students, many of whom are military connected or underrepresented in STEM fields, to participate in exemplary FIRST® programs, which include FIRST LEGO League and FIRST Robotics Competition. The grants also provide ways for the DoD workforce—educators, scientists, engineers, and other STEM professionals—to meaningfully engage with students, parents, teachers and the public in STEM initiatives. In partnership with FIRST, current DoD workforce members coach and mentor robotics teams near DoD laboratories and facilities across the nation and world.”

Since 2009, DoD STEM sponsorship has grown from 49 teams to more than 1,600 teams annually, covering the nation, 10 foreign countries and two U.S. territories. For the 2021–2022 season, 1,644 teams were awarded funds for season registration. The DoD STEM Robotics Grants are administered through the Defense STEM Education Consortium, which itself is a program of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

“We are proud to support FIRST Robotics and promote opportunities for military-connected teams and students,” said Lopez.

Voorheis added this year he has seen local participation in the FIRST Robotics program nearly double.

To learn more about FIRST and other DoD STEM programs and opportunities, visit

Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) is a cradle-to-grave U.S. Navy laboratory who conducts research, development, test and evaluation, and in-service support in Mine Warfare, Naval Special Warfare, Diving and Life Support, and Amphibious and Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare Systems, as well as other missions in the littoral battlespace and coastal regions. NSWC PCD’s origins date back to the 1940s with mine countermeasures research conducted during World War II at the U.S. Naval Mine Warfare Test Station, Solomons, Maryland. 2021 marks the 76th year of the U.S. Navy in Panama City.