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By Jennifer Erickson
NSWCDD Corporate Communications
Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) and its partners are expanding the innovation challenges from college and high school students and industry professionals to the next generation of scientists and engineers – middle schoolers.
“NSWCDD has world class scientists and engineers who are passionate about the work they do in support of the warfighter and want to share it with the younger generations through our STEM program,” said Melissa Smith, the division’s Acting Chief Technology Officer. “We are building a talent pipeline as we watch them work together.”
On Feb. 10, about 120 students will compete for the title of champion in the Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren: Middle School Robotics at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) Dahlgren Campus, hosted in partnership with UMW, Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council, King George Economic Development Authority, The MITRE Corporation and SimVentions.
Fifteen teams from 12 schools representing 10 school districts will program their robots to navigate a territory on a map. Students come from schools spanning from Stafford to the Northern Neck: A.G. Wright, Caroline, Colonial Beach, T. Benton Gayle, King George, Montross, Richmond County, Thornburg, Walker-Grant Middle Schools, Dahlgren School, James H. Cary Intermediate School and Washington District Elementary School.
“The students have been using provided robotics kits to prepare for the competition for a few months now, and we’re really looking forward to watching all of their hard work pay off in the various challenges that our lead engineers have designed,” said Tyler Truslow, NSWCDD K-12 STEM coordinator.
NSWCDD STEM mentors, advocates and volunteers will provide students missions ranging from rescue to chemical cleanup that are graded throughout the day. The division will announce the champion who will take home a plaque to their school and individual plaques for the team members. Each school will get a LEGO® Education SPIKE™ Prime Set.
The middle school competition is the third type of innovation challenge. The first innovation challenge was a robotics competition for high schoolers in 2022. The third annual one will be in March. Following the high school challenge, NSWCDD hosted its first collegiate challenge in 2023. It will host its next one in April. It hosted an inaugural industry innovation challenge in November 2023.
All of the innovation challenges are a part of the Potomac Tech Bridge, established in late 2023. Michael Clark, Potomac Tech Bridge director, explained the Tech Bridge is a part of Naval X. The Tech Bridge works with the industry and small businesses in the region to provide solutions to Marines’ and Sailors’ challenges as well as builds a community of innovators.
“We need people that are interested in the advancement of science and technology,” Clark said. “Our country needs people working in this space in innovating and being part of a community of innovation.”