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NEWS | May 3, 2022

Fredericksburg Christian School Robotics Team Places First at Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

The sounds of sonar echoed through the room as Fredericksburg Christian School’s (FCS) robot navigated a maze of landmasses and ships on its way to acquiring and destroying a squadron of jets assembled like bowling pins at the end of the course. FCS robot’s flawless performance launched the team into first place in the inaugural Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren event held at the University of Mary Washington’s (UMW) Dahlgren campus, April 30.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) teamed with UMW, MITRE Corporation and the Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council to host the robotics competition. The STEM-based competition pit high-school teams against each other in a race requiring command and control, detection, navigation, and sensor integration. The students used Python coding to program their LEGO-based robots.

Students representing 12 different public, private and governor’s high schools spanning from Richmond to Stafford and throughout the Northern Neck competed in the event vying for $5,000 in cash prizes. FCS earned $3,000 for their first-place finish. Lancaster County High School took second and a $1,500 prize, while Bridging Communities Governor’s School took home $500 for their third-place finish.

King George High School (KGHS) Instructional Technology Liaison Ameer Mir was initially concerned that he wouldn’t have enough students to participate. However, the school had the largest turnout of students compared to the rest of the competition. KGHS fielded three teams with four students on each team.

“It is great to see the kids get a real-world application of the skills they’ve been learning,” said Mir. “This experience gives them exposure to possibilities for a bright future in a high-demand STEM field.”

Vice Adm. William Galinis, Commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), served as the featured speaker. He encouraged students to learn from this opportunity and to hone their teamwork skills. “Technology is absolutely fundamental to what we do,” he said during his opening remarks. “At NAVSEA, we don’t solve problems on our own. We solve them as a team.”

FCS team member, Gabe Ognek, agreed with Galinis, saying that teamwork was the key to his team’s success. “We were constantly working as a team to perfect our robot through a series of trial and error adjustments,” stated Ognek. The sophomore plans to compete again next year and considers STEM as an opportunity to bolster his chances of being accepted into the Naval Academy. Ognek wants to become a naval aviator and dreams of flying jets off an aircraft carrier just like his father did. 

The Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren is just the start of what will become an annual three-part event, with the next two parts consisting of participation from college students from across the country and small businesses. “We are so excited to encourage STEM engagement and growth by hosting these annual competitions,” said NSWCDD Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift.

“STEM education is more important than ever in the United States, and this Innovation Challenge is a great way to expose students to hands-on learning. We need a workforce filled with critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who are ready to tackle difficult challenges,” said Clift in a UMW press release for the event. “This Innovation Challenge will provide a venue for high school students to put those skills on full display. Our hope is that STEM events, like this one, get students excited about furthering their STEM education and then pursuing careers in STEM fields.”

Galinis believes it all starts at home and in the classroom. “I would like to thank the teachers, parents, coaches and mentors for the time, effort and energy you dedicate to inspire our next generation of scientists and engineers,” he said.