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NEWS | Jan. 18, 2024

NUWC Division Newport employees guide STEM learning by judging science fairs

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport scientists, engineers and other employees helped judge two recent science fairs at Rhode Island high schools. The student projects touched on many scientific areas at Portsmouth High School on Jan. 10 and at South Kingstown High School on Jan. 11, and the best of these entries will advance to a statewide competition in March.

At Portsmouth High School, there were 59 projects — all completed by freshman students — on display inside the school’s old gymnasium. Each Division Newport employee was given three to four entries to judge, said Haley Abbott, a biology and biotechnology teacher and organizer of the Portsmouth High School science fair.

“I love all of the help we get from NUWC, because there are so many different, diverse backgrounds that come judge,” Abbott said. “I love that they can offer their expertise to our students.”

One of Division Newport’s judges was Dr. Lynn Antonelli, an electrical engineer and technical project manager in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department. She has been volunteering at these events for two decades and has rated projects at the local and statewide levels for both high school and middle school students.

“I like to see the evolution of ideas,” Antonelli said. “You can typically tell when you judge a project how much the student has done, as opposed to how much a parent has helped. I’m OK with a parent helping, as long as you can tell the student enjoyed it, had fun and learned.”

Stephen Marold, a computer scientist in the Undersea Warfare (USW) Combat Systems Department, is a Portsmouth High School graduate with the Class of 2005, so judging this science fair marked a return to his old stomping ground. A “late bloomer” when it came to science, he said he never participated in this event when he was a student.

“I thought it was a good chance to come back and help out,” Marold said. “I saw the opportunity to volunteer and, being a scientist, I wanted to see how a younger generation looks at science and gets excited about science and asks the right questions.”

One project that stood out to Marold involved a student dyeing different types of fabric and how the dye was absorbed over set periods of time. That student, Marold said, has a great penchant for fashion and design.

“Seeing somebody take something that they’re already passionate about and turning it into science is a key to getting people interested,” he said. “She did a great job with that.”

Like Marold, Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal biologist in the Corporate Operations Department, has a connection to Portsmouth High School through her daughter, who is a junior. DeAngelis said she wanted to judge the contest because she brings a unique perspective as one of the few people in her field at Division Newport.

“I’m surprised at how well the students articulate the concepts,” DeAngelis said. “They spontaneously answered questions and they were all very pleasant. They recognized if their hypothesis didn’t work out, or if it did work out, or what they want to do next. Everyone I talked to said they had fun doing it and want to do more.”

DeAngelis highlighted a “super creative” project in which a student with dry skin compared moisturizer brands to determine which had the highest moisture content. The student tested the products at various temperatures and humidity levels and learned the least expensive one proved most effective.

“We had a sidebar conversation about how advertising really influences what people think, regardless of what the results were,” DeAngelis said.

Dr. Jason Ralph, a member of the Human Systems Integration team in the USW Combat Systems Department, said he participated in a science fair when he was a high school student and that these types of events are crucial to creating the next generation of thinkers.

“It’s important that kids understand the scientific method and why it’s important and how they can build it into a career later on,” Ralph said.

‘I enjoy outreach very much’

At South Kingstown High School, about a dozen Division Newport employees attended the science fair to judge 120 projects that were developed and presented by 153 students, most of whom were sophomores.

The judges scored the projects on creativity, engineering, thoroughness, skill level and clarity. Points also were awarded based on how knowledgeable the students were about the subject matter and how well they presented their entry.

Kelsey Dugan, an ocean engineer in the USW Platforms and Payload Integration Department, was impressed by the students.

“I loved asking the students why they chose their topic,” Dugan said. “I learned, in many cases, how their interests outside of school inspired their projects.”

Dugan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering from the University of Rhode Island in 2020, started judging science competitions for Division Newport’s Educational Outreach program last year.

“In early 2023, I explored what NUWC offered outside of my code and how I can become more involved in the community,” Dugan said. “I read that NUWC’s Educational Outreach program was looking for judges, so I volunteered to judge science fairs and FIRST Robotics competitions.”

While Dugan is a new volunteer, John “Jack” Terlisner, an ordnance equipment specialist in the USW Weapons, Vehicles and Defensive Systems Department, has been judging or refereeing events for Division Newport for about 25 years.

“I started helping with the NUWC robotics program, then the state robotics competitions,” Terlisner said. “As the STEM and education outreach programs grew, so did other programs and events. It can be fun, entertaining and sometimes educational.”

A project that caught Terlisner’s attention was a solar boat demonstration.

“Two boys were trying to determine if it’s practical and economical for solar power to be used in the boating industry,” Terlisner said. “Their responses to my questions were spontaneous and enthusiastic. It was clear that they did a lot of work to find improvements and learn more. Prior to their project, they were interested in studying sports therapy or education in college, but now they’re considering a career in engineering.”

Ethan “Dexter” Hoag, a systems engineer in the USW Platforms and Payload Integration Department, has been judging science fairs since joining Division Newport 10 years ago, but his interest in science and science competitions began many years earlier.

“My father was an electrical engineer who developed industrial lasers,” Hoag said. “I visited his labs occasionally from elementary school through high school.”

Hoag attended high school at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, where all students in science classes were required to complete a school science fair project each year. Hoag, who graduated in 1992, advanced to the state science fair several times and was awarded a trip to Argonne National Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center in Lemont, Illinois, to study with other high school students.

“My time competing in science fairs was one of the high points of my high school career,” Hoag said. “I want to help today’s students have the same experiences.”

Dr. Kristina Kamensky, who works in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department as an engineer and manages Division Newport’s Bio-Inspired Research and Development Lab, never competed in science fairs, but science was by far her favorite subject in school.

“I was a straight-A student and I had an insatiable appetite for facts,” Kamensky said. “I was, and still am, obsessed with animal facts.”

This was Kamensky’s first time representing Division Newport at a science fair.

“I enjoy outreach very much,” Kamensky said. “Being a science fair judge was a unique opportunity. I look forward to volunteering again.”

A project that captured Kamensky’s attention, while it wasn’t one she was assigned to judge, centered on a wind turbine.

“My older brother is a wind turbine engineer. The student and I had a great discussion about wind turbines, how awesome they are, and why she picked the project,” Kamensky said. “When I asked what her plans were after graduation, I was giddy that she said marine biology. That is what I considered when I was her age. When she told me she loves sharks, I was over the moon. I told her that I have several co-workers, including my boss, who are marine biologists.”

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site-  and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.