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NSWC Dahlgren Engineers Mentor Students to First Place for Combatting Homelessness

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications Division | Dec. 17, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. – How can we shape a better future for everyone? This was the question challenging students at the 2019 FIRST Lego League City Shaper Challenge.

The Robot Engineers – comprised of 10 grade-school students from metro-Richmond – responded by focusing on solutions to combat homelessness at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) sponsored event.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) employees, Serita Seright, Joycelyn Josey-Harris and Tiffany Owens, mentored the students as they designed and developed the robot, performed research in support of the innovation project, and created weekly team building activities.

“It’s a labor of love working with the team and I enjoy seeing the kids grow and progress throughout the season,” said Owens, an NSWCDD engineer who won a Women of Color Magazine Community Service Award for her success with inspiring and mentoring students throughout Virginia. “It’s interesting to watch their hesitancy at the beginning of the season – since the robotics team may be something their parents made them do – to later in the season when they look forward to the robotics team meetings and progress in various activities with the new friends they have made. The students gain so many skills out of the FIRST Lego League program that they can apply to so many areas of their life.”

Since the community-based team of elementary and middle school students from public and home schools could meet only once a week, NSWCDD mentors gave them homework to help improve their skills and accomplish the team’s goals.

“What I’ve learned from our team is that creativity is the fuel for their passion, and our goal is to provide a place where their ideas are always welcome,” said Seright, an NSWCDD engineer who was honored with its Professional Member of the Year award in 2016 for leadership impacting the National Society of Black Engineers’ mission.

The students – participating in the Glen Allen Regional Tournament at Deep Run High School in Richmond on Nov. 23 – competed against other grade-school teams in the Robot Game, Innovation Project, and Core Values categories.

The Dahlgren-mentored team received the first place Innovation Project award for their Portable Backpack Shelter or PBS.

As a part of the Innovation Project category, the team presented a five-minute brief, explaining their solution to combat homelessness. The setting of the skit was based on observations at Monroe Park in Richmond, a location that students on the team were familiar with.

“Our hope is that we sparked an interest in STEM that continues as the students participate in FIRST Lego League and other STEM oriented programs,” said Owens. “The FIRST Lego League is a program that supports children and youngsters in order to introduce them to science and technology in a sporty atmosphere.”

The FIRST Lego League’s objective is to make children and youngsters enthusiastic about science and technology; equip them with the idea of team spirit; and encourage them to solve complex tasks in a creative way.

“When students are engaged in hands-on STEM experiences, they build confidence, grow their knowledge and develop habits of learning. When adults coach these students, they encourage them to try, fail, and try again, while connecting STEM concepts to real-world examples,” according to the FIRST website, https://www.firstinspires.org. “FIRST Lego League is the most accessible, guided, global robotics competition, helping students and teachers to build a better future together. The program is built around theme-based Challenges to engage children ages 9 to 16 in research, problem solving, coding, and engineering. The foundation of the program is the FIRST Core Values, which emphasize teamwork, discovery, and innovation. Students emerge more confident, excited, and equipped with the skills they need in a changing workforce.”

The Department of the Navy provides learning opportunities from elementary school through graduate school to inspire and cultivate a diverse pool of exceptional STEM talent. Navy programs connect STEM education in the classroom to the excitement, skills, and challenges that come with safeguarding the United States. NSWCDD supports the Navy’s STEM efforts by participating in a variety of STEM program areas.