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NEWS | March 14, 2024

NUWC Division Newport employees share their STEAM careers with elementary school students

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

While working toward her doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, Dr. Lauren Freeman, a senior oceanographer in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department, was tasked with running an educational outreach program for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Now as a member of the NUWC Division Newport workforce, she remains committed to introducing young people to the wonders of science.

Freeman was one of three Division Newport employees to attend the STEAM Festival hosted by the Portsmouth School Department in Rhode Island on Feb. 27-28 at the town’s two public elementary schools.

Dozens of professionals across various science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields set up small exhibits to showcase their work before wide-eyed students and their parents. In addition to Freeman, Division Newport was represented by Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal biologist in the Division Newport’s Corporate Operations Branch, and David Hart, a mechanical engineer and U.S. Navy diver who heads Division Newport’s Towed and Deployed Arrays Engineering Branch.

“While not everyone can get access behind the gates at NUWC, what we can do is come out of the gates and integrate ourselves into the community,” DeAngelis said. “We can show what we’re doing so it’s not this separate thing.”

Margie Brennan, science educator for Portsmouth School Department, who organized the STEAM Festival, said the goal of the event was to engage students in real-world applications of science and math and provide them with a deeper understanding and appreciation for those subjects.

“Introducing them to professionals from organizations like NUWC not only showcases potential STEAM careers, but also highlights the practical and exciting aspects of these fields,” Brennan said.

“The interactive displays and hands-on activities captured the interest of students and their families, making the learning experience enjoyable and memorable.”

Freeman has two sons who attend Hathaway Elementary and they were part of the reason she wanted to get involved with the STEAM Festival, but there was another factor in her decision.

“We’re losing young females, as well as minorities and underrepresented groups, from technical fields, from science, math, engineering, and we’re losing them really early,” she said. “Already at that age, there is a perception that science is for boys. And I am really keen to combat that because science is for everyone, as is engineering and math and all the other great parts of STEAM. That’s a big motivator for me to do these events.”

Among the items Freeman had on display was a homemade contraption that showed the movement of waves. It was comprised of electrical tape, a series of wooden skewer-like sticks and gummy bears placed at each end. While some of the younger students simply wanted to snack on the gummy bears, others were mesmerized by the waves they could make by pulling down on the sticks and letting go.

“There were kids who stayed at my station for like 10 or 20 minutes trying different things with the wave machine and seeing how it worked,” Freeman said. “And then they started coaching the other kids on how to do it, which was pretty cool. I enjoyed that and just sat back and let it happen.”

Freeman, who established a love for the ocean at an early age while growing up near Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, said she was pleasantly surprised by how many people turned out for the event.

“Being part of the Hathaway community, I saw a post on the school’s Facebook page where so many parents were posting these joyful pictures,” she said. “There were these happy comments from families, and it was wonderful to see that the event was pretty impactful to some of these younger kids.”

For Hart, the STEAM Festival was a family affair. His wife Amy is a speech pathologist at Melville Elementary and she greeted visitors alongside their daughter. The couple’s son stood with his father as they explained the sonar technology behind a towed array and the role of a U.S. Navy diver.

Exhibited were two large and very heavy diving helmets. Hart, whose father was a middle school science teacher, asked students if they wanted to try to lift them to show just how weighty they were. He said the STEAM Festival reminded him of “Bring a Child to Work Day,” an annual event hosted by Division Newport.

“The main reason I wanted to participate is because I know it has a big impact on kids,” Hart said.

“I’ve seen firsthand with my own kids, when they get to see the stuff that goes on here, it just opens their eyes up. A lot of times you’re only exposed to the careers your parents are in, so any time they get that exposure to those STEM careers, I think it’s a great thing.”

DeAngelis also had family involved in the STEAM Festival in her daughter Bella, a junior at Portsmouth High School, who assisted with various experiments and exhibits at both elementary schools.

“At one point, I turned around and she was explaining what I was doing, so that was a proud mom moment there,” DeAngelis said.

At the table were bones of sea creatures, a pair of military-grade binoculars, tagging devices and a laptop computer on which students could listen to various ocean sounds. There was also a seal restraint board, which is used to reduce the animal’s fatigue and stress during tagging and sample collecting. 

“I think a lot of people were surprised that the Navy is one of the biggest contributors to marine mammal science,” DeAngelis said.

Hart said the STEAM Festival was a great opportunity to show the public the various roles Division Newport employees play in forwarding the overarching mission of the Navy.

“Any of the stuff we at NUWC can do in the community is great,” he said. “We’re such a large part of the community, but we’re inside this fence and not everybody knows. So any time we can show the great work that we’re doing, and there’s a ton of awesome stuff we’re doing, it’s good.”

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