An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : News : Article View
NEWS | Feb. 29, 2024

Students to code their robots at third annual High School Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren

High school students from public and private schools from Stafford to the Northern Neck area will flood the halls of the University of Mary Washington’s  (UMW) Dahlgren Campus with robots.

More than 100 students will compete, in the third annual High School Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren Friday, March 1- Saturday, March 2, for a cash prize, trophy, robotics kits for their school and bragging rights.

“The thing I'm looking forward to the most is getting to watch the lightbulb moments on the students' faces, where they get a sudden idea for how to solve one of the challenges or when the program that they've been tweaking for an hour or so finally works on the practice mat. I love watching their faces and eyes light up when they go ‘Guys, I've got it!’” exclaimed Tyler Truslow, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) K-12 STEM Coordinator.

University of Mary Washington, the Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council, The MITRE Corporation and King George Economic Development Authority join NSWCDD in hosting the challenge.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division hosted the first challenge in 2022, which paved the way for the collegiate and industry challenges held in 2023. The competitions are part of the Potomac Tech Bridge which serves as an outreach capability for NSWCDD in building a community of innovation with its partners.

“What’s notable about these events is that students not only get to demonstrate their technical knowledge and skills, but they get to solve problems, learning from their failures and building off their successes,” said University of Mary Washington College of Business Lecturer and Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council Chairman Dr. John Burrow. “That’s what scientists and engineers do every day, exposing these students to this experience will hopefully inspire them to continue their STEM education and maybe, just maybe, pursue a career as a scientist or engineer and have an enduring impact on our community and our nation.”

Andy Thompson, department manager for the Expeditionary Department at The MITRE Corporation, highlighted the importance of being involved in events like these.
“As an operator of federally funded research & development centers, MITRE needs highly skilled STEM professionals to accomplish our mission of solving problems for a safer world. Sponsoring these Innovation Challenges with NSWC Dahlgren Division and UMW helps to inspire middle and high school students to choose a STEM career path and hopefully apply those skills to national security,” Thompson said.

Students who may choose a STEM career path come from 16 schools representing 12 school districts comprising of 22 teams to program their robots for the Engage.  Navigate.  Recover.  Gather. (ENRG) Mission. They will engage by assembling robots to safely navigate challenging terrain on a quest to recover critical hardware while gathering intel and maintaining mission awareness.

Defending champions from 2023, Rappahannock High School, will return to defend their crown. New this year will be a middle school team that was named champion in the inaugural Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren: Middle School Robotics competition in February – Caroline Middle School.

The following schools will be joining them:

Bridging Communities STEM Academy,

Mountain View High School

Caroline High School

North Stafford High School

Colonial Beach High School

Northumberland High School

Courtland High School

Spotsylvania High school

James Monroe High School

Westmoreland High school

King George High School

Fredericksburg Academy

Massaponax High School

Fredericksburg Christian School

On March 1, students will arrive at 8 a.m. followed by a kickoff at 9 a.m. and team collaboration until 5 p.m. On March 2, they will hear from keynotes at 9 a.m. and continue to collaborate with their teams. Competition Lightning Rounds are 2-4:30 p.m. followed by the awards ceremony at 4:30 p.m.

“This challenge is building the next generation of scientists and engineers by giving the students a chance to apply the things they’ve learned in all of their hard work over the last few months (or years, in some cases) to situations with something real on the line. It's one thing to learn and understand these programming skills in the classroom, but it's something totally different to apply them to real-world problems in a team context when you’re working in a situation with some pressure!” Truslow exclaimed. “Those are the things that our scientists and engineers are doing every single day in their support of the warfighter, and we’re giving these students an incredibly unique opportunity to grow and practice their skills of teaming under pressure – while directly working with and learning from our scientists and engineers – because that's something you can only get through experience.”

The event is not open to the public; however, media wishing to attend should contact Jennifer Erickson with NSWCDD public affairs at (540) 653-5859 or Lisa Marvashti with UMW Media and Public Relations at (540) 654-1378.