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NEWS | April 24, 2023

Students enter a world of possibilities at Saturday STEM Expo

By Jennifer Erickson, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Q’adir Brown, 17, is thinking about pursuing mechanical engineering in college.

The student of Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Washington, D.C., spent some time talking to Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift about opportunities at the Saturday STEM Expo April 15 at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).

During the opening ceremony, he heard her inspirational words tied to the theme of the event, “Be Your Possible,” where 170 elementary, middle, high school and college students attended.

“I want to help you be your possible,” she said as she highlighted her journey in college that led to a career in STEM.

Clift was 22 years old, married and had an infant son, while working as an entry-level secretary at NSWCDD. She had some college education, but her supervisor encouraged her to complete it and focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

“He saw potential in me that I don’t know that I saw in myself,” she said.

Clift applied and was accepted into the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg.

“What I have found is that when somebody believes in you, it builds confidence in you and it’s a huge source of motivation,” she said.

At times she juggled college at 8 a.m., driving back to Dahlgren for work and, returning to class in the evening, doing homework on Saturday and going into the office Sunday to get ahead of the workweek. After a couple of years of this routine, she graduated from UMW. 

“Graduating at Mary Washington at one of the most difficult times of my life proved to me that I can do anything and I’m here to tell you – you can, too.” Clift said.

Today, Clift is pursuing her doctorate degree at The George Washington University and is planning to defend her dissertation in November. She refers to her current position as “the coolest job ever. I get to lead an enormous investment portfolio of future technology.”

Also noting he enjoys his job, NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Phil Mlynarski highlighted the importance of STEM in our nation.

“What it really comes down to is how are we protecting our country? How are we protecting our future? What we need is great young minds, great young scientists, great young engineers and great young mathematicians going forward and finding out the new cool ways to defend our country,” he said.

This could range from building a tank to a shipboard system, he said.

“You have to think analytically through things and that’s what our STEM programs teach you to do from the elementary schools all the way to college,” Mlynarski said. “I’m excited to see what your bright futures look like.”

Mlynarski was not the only leader who highlighted this generation’s future.

“Let me thank the students here because they are the future and they are very bright and they are very creative. Look at the opportunity, young people, and take advantage of it because America and the world and the future need you,” said UDC President Ronald Mason, who encouraged the students to visit the 13 exhibitors and 20 booths from federal and nonprofit organizations.

Brown visited NSWCDD booths where STEM Advocates Scientist Dr. Spencer Beloin, Scientist Brad Ridder and Biology Safety Officer Erica Klonkowski and NSWC Carderock Engineer Ashlee Floyd highlighted their careers.

UDC presented the event in partnership with NSWCDD, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Reconnaissance Office. Dr. Victor McCrary, UDC vice president for university research, said he was pleased with the turnout for the inaugural event, stressing the need for more professionals in the STEM career field.

The STEM team within the NSWCDD Technology Office coordinated with partners for the event.

NSWCDD offers 10 different types of programs ranging from support toward special events such as a STEM night to innovation challenges in the classroom to coding clubs, providing access to programming instruction, said Michael Clark, NSWCDD STEM director.

The expo provided the opportunity for NSWCDD to step out of the local region and reach students that may not have access to STEM resources, according to Clark.

“When you’re talking one-on-one with the student and you can see the impact that you’re making or that our program is making, there’s nothing really like that,” Clark said.