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NSWC Dahlgren Division STEM Mentors Inspire Youth at Annual Summer Academy

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | July 8, 2019

KING GEORGE, Va. – Raven Filcott’s persistent positive attitude is reminiscent of Thomas Edison who never gave up until he improved the light bulb and invented a myriad of products through trial and error.

The Walker Grant Middle schooler pursued numerous techniques before hitting on the perfect design and putting her team’s robot together at the 2019 NSWCDD STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Summer Academy.

“It was pretty hard – a lot of trial and error took place but after tweaking it multiple times, it finally worked out,” said Filcott. “Right now we are trying to make our robot go onto a dock which is a stack of Legos. The robot has to get on the dock for five seconds. Then it must display a message and get off the dock to go back home.”

Filcott was among 70 ‘campers’ who engaged in STEM activities at Sealston Elementary School that involved robotics, rocketry, physics, liquid nitrogen, lasers, building balsa wood towers, and electronic warfare.

At the end of the five-day camp, the middle school students were awarded badges to go along with their new and improved skills, abilities, and memories.

Behind the scenes at the academy were the teachers, parents, and scientists, who believe in the lasting influence of STEM.

Over the course of the past 15 years, Robert Taft – NSWCDD mathematician and STEM mentor – has witnessed the growth of STEM to its current 70-member summer volunteer corps.

“I’ve been doing this camp since the first year when it was called the Virginia Demonstration Project,” said Taft. “Just the opportunity to see young people get excited about science and work together in teams inspired me to work harder.”

Maybe nothing is more satisfying to a parent than to watch their child excel in a field of study that may one day yield a bright career.

King George Middle School parent Jay Arbitrario was all smiles as he watched his daughter, Leiani, craft and build her team’s robot. “This is a blessing for her to be in this camp,” said Arbitrario. “On the way here, I was talking to her about science, math, construction, and programing—this entire program is awesome. It’s a great learning experience for kids to collaborate and learn from their counterparts who attend middle schools in other counties.”

Former U.S. Senator John Warner supported the Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP), which co-sponsored the STEM Summer Camps that began at Dahlgren in 2005 with the goal of increasing student interest in STEM education and pursuing STEM careers.

"America is falling behind," said Warner 13 years ago at a VDP Exposition in Fredericksburg, Va., where students showcased their scientific achievements. “As we train 70,000 scientists and engineers this year (2006), China graduates 600,000 scientists and engineers. We need a wake-up call, and you are sending that wake-up call."

“Because of John Warner, we have the opportunity to bring STEM to King George County,” said Taft. “Where are we going to find engineers and scientists in 20 years?”

This year’s program featured 13 NSWCDD scientists and engineers, along with 12 junior mentors, who happen to be STEM Summer Academy graduates.

STEM provided its original organizers an opportunity to reach out to middle school students across five school districts. In an effort to promote teamwork, students collaborate and work in teams of six. Teamwork enhances their social skills, programming skills, and their ability to build towers using shared knowledge. They learn the benefits of test concepts, while understanding the basics of taking data, graphing, and coming to their own conclusions.

NSWCDD contractor Dusty Remington has seen his share of rocket launches. Over the past 14 years, the STEM mentor has helped students launch rockets in addition to supporting SeaPerch underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) as part of a science and engineering technology curriculum. SeaPerch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater ROV in an in-school or out-of-school setting. “These middle school kids do an excellent job,” said Remington.

Throughout the week at Sealston Elementary School, students worked with NSWCDD scientists and engineers. Among the STEM mentors were David Campbell, an applied physicist who attended a STEM camp in 2009, and Jamshaid ‘JD’ Chaudhry, a scientist, working in STEM Outreach since his sophomore year in college.

“To be part of a process that helps a student learn why something happens in the way it does is a privilege and responsibility that I don’t take lightly,” said Chaudhry.

Other local scientists that spoke during this year’s summer session included Kristen Moeller, an NSWCDD test engineer who firmly believes that there are jobs out there that don’t have to fit your degree.

“All you need to do is have a level of learning, and be willing to work with people,” said Moeller. “I helped design and figure out how we are going to test and put together the safety documentation.”

Local demonstrators included amateur radio gurus, Sam Stello and Joe Caliri, from the Association of Old Crows and the King George Amateur Radio Club.

“They have done a great job,” said Chris Hodge, NSWCDD Academic and Student Programs director, regarding the aerospace engineering rocketry activity that campers experienced. “From launching the balls with rockets to timing the flight, students are engaged in rocketry challenges with an immersive hands-on approach that helps them experience everything as it all comes together.”