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“Reach for the Stars” at Starbase Camp: Training Our Future Coworkers

By Hannah Bondoc, NNSY Public Affairs Specialist | Aug. 6, 2019

NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —

“The gears in the young girl’s head and the literal gears in the machine almost completely made of Legos before her churn in tandem as she intently look between the latter and the laptop she is using to operate it. Colorful little birds atop the machine turn around and around. She understands the mechanics of what she is doing, the likes of which many math and science majors only learn in college.”

This idyllic scene at one of Starbase Victory’s (SBV) many summer programs makes a good introduction to a feel good public affairs story, but what do these summer programs do for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY)?

Today’s children will be tomorrow’s employees. 3,000 children from 13 different schools learning the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills it takes to take the future NNSY onward. That is 3,000 potential employees for the NNSY. A nonprofit organization, SBV uses whatever funds they receive to go into educational material to teach them things beyond your average middle school science class curriculum, from programming robots inspired by nature, computer coding and even the kind of mapping that ties into the exchange generated from the naval port in. For example, the SBV’s Executive Director Bill Hayden spoke about the trip the coding students are taking to Norfolk State University where the professors are going to show them how what they’ve learned in class pertains to cybersecurity. “They walk away with their eyes wide open” Hayden said, “and the instructors from day one, when we first did this said ‘Whoa! These are 5th graders? 6th graders? And they’re doing elementary coding?’”

Captain Kai Torkelson, who was also in attendance, said he has also discussed the need to build talent with community leaders. ”We need more talent and skill for ship repair and modernization business—not just for the shipyard, but all the private contractors and private shipyards.” 

Not only are they learning technical trade skills, but also what it means to work as part of a team and the camaraderie that is paramount to the success of the shipyard. “Now these kids don’t know each other when they come here,” said Hayden, “They might know one other kid in the class. By the end of their one week here, they’re working with each other, and they’re solving problems, and they’re getting a taste of real life in the school.”

“Working together, that’s part of what we do as C.O.R.E., at the shipyard, and the military [,]” added NNSY Community Outreach Officer Valerie, “We all work together.”  

One could argue that all of these skills are transferable to other workplaces beyond the shipyard, so how do we know any of them will want to come work at NNSY? With the camp’s origins lying in the partnership between SBV and the Shipyard back in 2002, SBV’s Science Program Specialist Richard Neefe explain how the first impression that NNSY’s volunteer mentors leave on the students help with that: “The men and women who come out of the yard to tutor the students are one of the best gifts. There are so many times when someone needs one to one help, and you can’t just generate more and more staff.” One of the staff members in particular was even able to coax students to him in a way that made them ask questions about what he does, thus piquing their curiosity and interest about working at the shipyard.

With the exception of this year, Fulwood has also taken students on a tour of the shipyard to show them what it's like and for them to be able to speak with the employees who are engaging the same skills and knowledge they are learning about in class.