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NEWS | Aug. 17, 2018

Command STEM outreach program makes difference locally

By Silvia Klatman, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility’s science, technology, engineering and math outreach initiatives reached a milestone this year, celebrating ten years of success.

Under the leadership of PSNS & IMF’s STEM coordinators Corinne Beach and Steve Mastel, the program has grown exponentially since initially launched with teammates mentoring 300 school children at Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, less than a mile away from PSNS & IMF in Bremerton, Wash. 

Hundreds of volunteers over the years have sparked and nurtured students’ STEM interest with a variety of engaging activities including the largest initiative, the remotely operated vehicle program.

Since the inaugural 2007-2008 school year, shipyard personnel and teammates from nearby commands have helped more than 21,000 students with captivating, interactive learning. This number doesn’t include tens of thousands of children who participated in short, festival-type events.

The question is, after ten years, what kind of impact have these programs had on the career and education choices of participants?

“It is hard to say what was going through my 16-year-old head at the time, but I definitely think the program was a great gateway into the application of STEM that wouldn’t have been received from a textbook,” said Marcus D’Angelo, a nuclear engineer with PSNS & IMF’s Nuclear Facilities and Waste Engineering Division.

D’Angelo was an early participant in the ROV program at Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Wash., as part of a computer-aided design class.

“It was probably the first time where I actually got hands-on with building and designing something mechanical with electrical components,” he said. “I remember right after completing the program thinking of all the ways to improve the design of the vehicle if I were to do it again. This is a similar principle taught in engineering school: Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.”

D’Angelo joined PSNS & IMF four years ago and is now sharing his knowledge with students as well.

“I got a chance to volunteer with this same program at Bremerton (Wash.) High this past year, so I’ve come full circle,” D’Angelo said.

Christina Channel, the new hire program project manager with PSNS & IMF’s Nuclear Recruiting, Training, & Development, is another STEM outreach graduate who onboarded as an intern after completing her sophomore year of college.

“It’s pretty profound how participating in STEM programs not only gets you interested and familiar with science and technology, but it also increases your desire to share it with people,” Channell said. “I participated in science fair mentoring and physics mentoring for elementary-aged children while in college, and I definitely attribute part of my involvement as being rooted in the experiences that I had in the STEM programs.”

Channell first experienced STEM outreach with Starbase Atlantis at Silver Ridge Elementary School in Silverdale, Wash., then immersed herself in FIRST Robotics at Central Kitsap High School.

“It was definitely an experience that made science fun and practical for me and connected the fact that science and technical subjects did not have to be some pie-in-the-sky thing that you do in a lab,” Channell said. “I loved learning fun knowledge facts and science principles that I do not think I would have remembered nor understood as easily if they were taught in a presentation or from a textbook.”

She describes the robotics program as an “intimidating but welcoming challenge” adding, “I remember also learning how to be in a community through FIRST and learning how to play on each person’s strengths in the team.”

One of the Poulsbo, Wash.-based North Kitsap High School participants, Jeremy Fitchett, now a marine mechanic helper trainee with the PSNS & IMF Marine Machinery Division, had a unique situation to overcome with his ROV. His partner was unable to attend the eighth-grade pool challenge due to illness. He was disappointed when he found out that he could not participate without a partner.

Fortunately, his younger sister was at the event watching the other ROV demonstrations, so organizers allowed her to register as Fitchett’s partner. They were able to complete the event.

Being part of the ROV program eventually led him to West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton, where he learned welding and auto body repair. Fitchett ultimately attended Olympic College in Bremerton before joining the shipyard. 

In Washington, all Kitsap County districts, North Mason School District and Peninsula School District have STEM programs supported by PSNS & IMF volunteers. Last school year, 5,000 local students from six high schools, 11 middle schools and 30 elementary schools participated. An additional 100 children attended summer camps and 5,500 more were reached during festival-type events.

The program is possible due to the commitment of about 175 teachers and 120 command volunteers annually along with partnerships and support from organizations including Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport, in Keyport, Wash.; the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum Keyport, in Keyport; and the Puget Sound Navy Museum, in Bremerton. Other partners include the local school districts, the Kitsap Regional Library, in Kitsap County, the Sea Discovery Center, in Poulsbo, Wash., and the USS Turner Joy Naval Destroyer Museum Ship, in downtown Bremerton.

So what do these STEM graduates foresee in their future?  Perhaps Channell speaks for the goals when she says her goal is to “continue learning and perfecting skills and to continue to find ways to build community and make people’s experience at the shipyard increasingly better.”