VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Hundreds of fifth-grade Virginia Beach elementary school students learned more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through fun hands-on displays at the annual Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Air Show, Sept. 21.
Navy civilian scientists and engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity, and Dahlgren’s Sly Fox program engaged the students with robots, liquid nitrogen, unmanned vehicles, slime, and more.
“The goal of our STEM displays is to get kids to understand what the Navy does in science, technology, engineering, and math fields,” said Corey Guilbault, NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity’s STEM lead. “We need diversity in our STEM fields and this is an important way to help with that.”
Guilbault and his STEM team have been mentoring students at eight to 10 local elementary schools each year. They hope to increase their visits to 20 schools in 2019.
The NAS Oceana Air Show featured the Navy’s Blue Angels and many current and classic airplanes performing aerial maneuvers for thousands of guests, but the STEM displays may have been the most popular for the schoolchildren.
The most popular of the STEM displays? “Slime,” said Guilbault. “Always the slime.”
Lauren Sencio, NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity’s STEM Air Show coordinator, agreed. “Slime. And robots.”
Among the many displays put on by the team of 30 civilian personnel were puzzles, liquid nitrogen, optic lenses, pulley demonstrations, static electricity and unmanned ground vehicles.
“In every display, our team talks with the kids and gets them to realize what engineering is,” said Sencio. “In my case, they get to see that I’m a woman and an engineer and they put a face to what a woman engineer looks like. The girls realize that they can be one too.”
Sencio began planning for the STEM display at the NAS Oceana Air Show six months in advance and finalized displays two months ago.
Dahlgren’s Sly Fox team brought their unmanned vehicles and other hands-on displays that were popular with many schoolchildren. Their tablet-based system enables automated ship maneuver recommendations to hopefully avoid future collisions that recently resulted in loss of life and extensive damage to several Navy ships.
What’s more, students enjoyed the opportunity to remotely-control a swarming unmanned vehicle system. “We develop networked unmanned systems to search and identify possible targets that could be a threat,” said Kevin Cogley, Sly Fox’s process mentor, who brought the unmanned system to the show.
"Getting the chance to get fifth-grade students excited about STEM careers in the Navy, both in uniform and as civilians, is critical to our nation's future,” said Cmdr. Andrew Hoffman, NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity's commanding officer. “We need to inspire some of them toward a career in the sciences and this is always an important way to do that. As the Navy's only research and development lab in Hampton Roads, we have a special obligation to be a bridge to the amazing opportunities the Navy provides."