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NEWS | June 30, 2023

NSWCDD kicks off its Summer STEM Academy for regional middle school students

By Diana Stefko, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) is committed to providing fun and engaging opportunities for students across the region to gain unique experiences in STEM fields, even during summer vacation.

Over the course of two days, NSWCDD scientists and engineers participated in the 2023 Summer STEM Academy at King George Middle School, the site of the annual event.

NSWCDD invited students from several middle school districts in the surrounding areas, including King George, Caroline, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Colonial Beach, Westmoreland and Fredericksburg.

This year, 38 students registered to attend the academy along with three high school students – two from King George High School and one from Fredericksburg Academy – who volunteered as junior mentors, assisting students during challenges that pertained to robotics, code development and engineering concepts.

The summer academy provides opportunities for students to engage with Dahlgren STEM advocates and junior mentors to develop critical-thinking skills and partake in team-building exercises.

Rising King George High School senior Kamaya Wilson volunteered her time and dedicated herself to guiding the younger students during the STEM challenges.

“STEM programs like this are extremely important, especially as someone who's going to be going to college soon,” Wilson said. “They expose me to so many more opportunities within STEM fields but also outside of those fields. I can really reach within and discover things about myself.”

STEM outreach at NSWCDD, overseen by the Technology Office, collaborates with academic partners, school administrators and faculty as well as naval organizations to provide attractive opportunities and ensure the success of programs such as the Summer STEM Academy.

“We have some incredibly talented scientists and engineers who love getting outside of our fence-line and impacting local students. We have a lot of responsibility in engaging students and helping to prepare our own future workforce,” stated Michael Clark, STEM Director in the Technology Office. “With this summer academy, these students received a total of 14 hours of being fully engulfed in different STEM opportunities, and those are the types of programs we're building that are going to make a lasting impression.”

The Dahlgren STEM team guided each student team in utilizing the coding software Python, building a sail car for a racing tournament, constructing a boat model to carry weight while managing a materials budget and navigating a physical course with a model robot built and programmed by students.

The attendees were treated to live demonstrations of physics concepts presented by NSWCDD scientists and engineers at the end of each day.

NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Philip Mlynarski joined the group on the second day to interact with the Dahlgren team, junior mentors and attendees. He spoke to students during their lunch break about the significance of STEM and applauded their participation.

“These types of programs really build up our community and STEM pride; it’s an amazing event,” Mlynarski said. “We want to grow ourselves in these areas and help develop these kids so there will be great minds in the future. Part of that is putting these events together when they're young and getting them really excited about it.”  

Mlynarski’s daughter also attended the summer academy and he expressed joy in seeing her excel. “Watching her eyes light up while she's doing this is amazing,” he said.

Mlynarski presented certificates to the winning team of the boat-building challenge, highlighting their achievements in constructing a ship model capable of staying afloat with the highest weight aboard and coming under budget with materials.

Chelsea Lawson, an engineer with the Integrated Combat Systems Department, serves as director of the STEM academy. Lawson commented on the importance of providing similar programs for all students.

“It’s really exciting to put together a program like the STEM academy and seeing the students light up as they go through each challenge, exploring and solving the problems we presented,” Lawson said. “We like to incorporate new Navy-inspired challenges every year for the students while keeping some of their favorites like the robotics one.”

NSWCDD plans to expand and promote various STEM programs, broaden existing and new community, industry and academic partnerships and provide diverse opportunities for students at all levels. According to Clark, NSWCDD will need people to work alongside STEM advocates for years to come, eventually becoming subject matter experts and taking on leadership roles. He stated that the academy is a great way to energize students about those types of careers.

“We want to provide great opportunities for students at all levels. We love supporting science fairs, STEM nights and short one-time interactions to hopefully set the hook with students to become excited about STEM,” Clark said. “It is critical that we build and support programs with a little more depth that give a further look into what a career in STEM is all about. The Summer STEM Academy team does a great job of providing that type of opportunity for these really talented students.”

NSWCDD secures funding through a partnership with the Office of Naval Research and other Navy enterprises to outfit the academy with necessary materials and equipment at no cost to the schools or students.