When Brian Blackwell first heard about the Workplace Simulation Project (WSP), he viewed it as a perfect opportunity for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) to help build its future workforce.
Blackwell, a member of NSWC Crane’s Executive Leadership Team, also saw the WSP as a way to inform talented students in southern Indiana that they can build a future Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related career without leaving the region.
Two years later, the WSP is a booming success in southern Indiana, and it is expanding to even more school districts next school year.
“I like the idea of taking our employees into the classroom to help with STEM programs, but also to give the students a sense of what it would be like to work for the Warfare Center,” Blackwell said. “Our folks have put a lot of hard work into this program and it is paying off. I'm also excited to see other regional employers follow our lead and team up with additional schools in the region.”
In 2015, DirectEmployers Association launched a foundation with a goal of closing the gap between the increase demand in STEM-related jobs in Indiana and the lack of students prepared for those jobs.
Since 2004, growth in STEM jobs in the United States has been three times faster than in non-STEM jobs, with workers earning 26 percent more than non-STEM counterparts, according to the National Science Foundation.
One of the first things the DirectEmployers Foundation did after its inception was implement a WSP in Indianapolis schools. Shortly after rolling the project out in Indianapolis, Executive Director Simone Murray reached out to Indiana University (IU) in an attempt to spread the project to school districts in southern Indiana.
IU jumped on board, launching a research project on the WSP funded by internal grants in 2015. IU contacted a number of organizations to be its partner in southern Indiana, but it quickly became clear that NSWC Crane was not only an ideal partner, but was enthusiastic about getting involved.
Angie Mann, NSWC Crane’s Regional Engagement and Community Outreach Liaison, was the first person from Crane to meet with IU and DirectEmployers in early 2015, and she later presented it to Blackwell with the recommendation that NSWC Crane be part of the WSP. Mann has been involved with the project throughout, and she and Blackwell were both instrumental in pushing the entire process through Crane.
“This initiative will increase our long-term ability to accomplish our assigned mission and a shared goal to ensure a readily available and relevant workforce pipeline within the region,” Mann said. “The potential workforce pipeline being established right in our backyard may one day help provide solutions to our warfighter's toughest technical problems.”
NSWC Crane, IU and DirectEmployers launched the WSP with a pilot year in the Bloomfield School District during the 2015-16 school year. They just finished up the second year of the program in Bloomfield, and they’ve made several changes since then.
Going forward, the WSP will cover only one semester instead of two, and it will expand into Loogootee, Shoals, Paoli and Spring Valley school districts, as well as French Lick Resort and Stimulus Engineering next year. There are currently more Bloomfield students enrolled in next fall’s Computer Science course than ever before, a direct result of their interest in participating in the WSP.
“When people come in from the outside and they watch students that have worked with Crane and those that have worked with another organization, they could tell the understanding of the students that worked with Crane,” said Sophie Haywood, a member of IU’s professional staff.
Thus far, students in the WSP have been tasked with establishing a secure perimeter around the building and countering any external threats with a robot that responds to an intruder’s movements and releases a drone to target the intruder before he reaches any classified information. The WSP involves five different classes – Algebra 1, Computer Science, Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), Principals of Engineering (POE) and Physics – each of which is responsible for a specific part of the overall project. All of the classes then come together for a final presentation at the end of the year.
Many NSWC Crane employees volunteer their time to participate in the program and to help teach individual classes.
JR Ross, NSWC Crane’s Deputy Director for the Global Deterrence and Defense Department, served as both a mentor and liaison during the pilot year at Bloomfield, and he has been active in promoting STEM throughout the region for several years. Ross volunteered because he enjoyed giving back to his community, but also because he knows the program will benefit NSWC Crane – both now, and in the future.
“I am excited to try and bridge the gap between the theory of math and science and how it could pertain to a career in engineering at a place like NSWC Crane,” Ross said. “This provided a unique opportunity to serve in an innovative and leading-edge project, and also attempt to plant some seeds with prospective engineers and possibly future employees of NSWC Crane.”
As a result of being awarded a $670,000 grant from the Skill Up! Indiana program late last year, NSWC Crane, IU and DirectEmployers were able to offer 8-week internships to 40 students this summer. The students earn a competitive $11/hour and are working for companies like Jasper Engines, Stimulus Engineering, Raydar, Greene County General Hospital, and more.
The grant also allowed the program to pay for teacher externships, two new project directors at IU, and a condensed WSP for unemployed and underemployed adults.
“The role Crane has played in the WSP is invaluable,” said Angel Reece, National Security and Defense Sector Specialist at Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI). “It is amazing what these kids are capable of when the community invests their time. These kids are our future and it is great to see the investment Crane is making in them.”
NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi-spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability of today’s warfighter.