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NEWS | March 22, 2023

High School Students Gear Up for 2nd Annual Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

The courses are ready and the stakes are high. The University of Mary Washington  (UMW) Dahlgren Campus awaits 125 students who will compete for a prize purse of $7,500 at the 2nd annual High School Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren.

The challenge, hosted by Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), UMW, MITRE Corporation, the Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council and King George Economic Development Authority, is March 31-April 1.

Students from 22 schools comprising of 25 teams will program their robots to infiltrate hostile territory from the sea and navigate a challenging environment to recover a piece of gear that is critical to national security during Special Technical Object Recovery Mission (STORM).

They come from the following public, private and governor’s high schools spanning from Richmond to Stafford and throughout the Northern Neck: Bridging Communities Governor’s School, Chesapeake Governor’s School - Bowling Green and Warsaw, Caroline, Colonial Beach, Courtland, Essex, James Monroe, King & Queen, King George, Lancaster, Massaponax, Mountain View, North Stafford, Northumberland, Rappahannock, Riverbend, Spotsylvania and Westmoreland high schools, Fredericksburg Academy, Fredericksburg Christian School and Northern Neck Regional Technical Center.

On March 31, students will arrive for a kickoff followed by the challenge course unveiling. They will then have team collaboration for the rest of the day. On April 1, they will hear from keynotes and continue to collaborate with their teams. The competition is 1-4:30 p.m. While the challenge is not open to the public, it is scheduled to be available via a live videostream on the NSWCDD YouTube channel at

The first challenge was held in April 2022, where Fredericksburg Christian School placed first, Lancaster won second place and Bridging Communities took home third place.

NSWCDD also hosted an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Innovation Challenge at Dahlgren in early March, where 10 colleges and universities nationwide competed at UMW. Carnegie Mellon won the first place prize of $50,000, Virginia Tech placed second winning $30,000 and William & Mary was third place winning $20,000.

The next innovation challenge will be geared toward the industry.

All of the innovation challenges were created to put more emphasis on STEM, according to NSWCDD Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift and UMW College of Business Lecturer John Burrow.

“I’ve watched students light up when they assemble their robots to navigate a challenging course whether it be a mat or under water. We need to provide these opportunities to them so they know what’s available in the career field of science, technology, engineering and math,” Clift said. ‘It’s wonderful to see how we have increased from 12 to 22 schools from April 2022 to now – demonstrating interest across the region. These challenges are designed to allow for students to be creative critical thinkers who know how to design, test and evaluate a problem – skills that are critical at NSWCDD.”

The greater Fredericksburg region depends on scientists and engineers who have the education and technical acumen to fill government and industry needs, Burrow said. 

“It is imperative that we not only encourage our local students to pursue science, engineering and technical degrees, but that they see firsthand the opportunities that exist in our region,” he said. “Hosting the event at UMW Dahlgren, located just outside our state’s largest employer for research and development work, allows students to demonstrate their technical knowledge and skills in front of some of our nation’s top scientists and engineers. It’s analogous to high school athletes getting to play in front of the pros.”

Media wishing to attend should contact Jennifer Erickson with NSWCDD public affairs at (540) 653-5859 or Lisa Marvashti with UMW Media and Public Relations at (540) 654-1378.