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NEWS | May 19, 2023

Fly, Float, Catapult! Montross Middle School Students Compete in NSWC Dahlgren Division STEM Competitions

By Jennifer Erickson, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Gustavo Cabanillas watched intently as his team’s wind-powered car – four paper cups glued to cardboard and two straw-encased sticks attached to tea lights serving as wheels – soared away from the fan across the gym floor 267 inches.

The Montross Middle School sixth-grader was proud of his team’s accomplishment in one of three challenges at the STEM competitions hosted by Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Thursday at the school.

“It was pretty fun,” he said, noting he enjoyed building the car and he’s interested in pursuing engineering as a career.

“Think creatively. Think outside of the box and let’s see some great designs,” Michael Clark, NSWCDD STEM Outreach Director, encouraged students.

In one challenge, students pretended they had $25 to buy supplies for designing a boat that needed to float when an NSWCDD scientist placed sandbags on it. Supplies included cardboard, plastic cups, parchment paper, masking tape, rubber bands and plastic wrap.

While one team watched nervously as their boat floated in the plastic storage container of water, another one laughed while launching a marshmallow into a bucket with their uniquely designed catapult.

Montross Middle School Principal Leah Segar watched the students compete.

“I really think that this is a wonderful opportunity for students to sort of have that hands-on experience that they really crave. They truly do enjoy anything that allows them to stretch their minds and to go beyond the traditional classroom,” Segar said. “It really has opened up our students’ minds to what is outside of traditional 9-to-5 jobs particularly in the areas of science.”

“We are so grateful for the partnership with Dahlgren,” she said.

The entire school competed in the three challenges and leads as a pilot program for NSWCDD.

Clark said the division has plans to take this program to other middle schools in the region.

“We want them to be engaged with STEM opportunities and get them energized about it,” Clark said. “We know that these years are truly formative years and we want to do something that makes a lasting impression with them.”