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NSWCPD Gives Girl Scouts a Virtual View into the STEM World

By Henry Finch, NSWCPD Public Affairs | NSWCPD | Aug. 13, 2020

Every summer since 2012 the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) has hosted middle and high school girls for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania Science, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) Experience Summer Camp with Jefferson University and GESP.

In 2020 the tradition continued, albeit in a different structure than in previous years. Just like almost everything else this summer, the camp was run as a virtual experience. The various activities were hosted through online video calls sometimes with the whole camp and at other times split up into smaller groups to facilitate greater discussion.

“The goal of the camp is to expose students to STEM as a career field and to help foster that interest at an important developmental stage in their lives. To neglect that or not support that would be stepping backwards in the ever-evolving effort to get students and especially young women interested in pursuing STEM fields,” said Elyse Merkel, a Fuel Systems Engineer at NSWCPD, co-chairperson of the command’s New Hires Employee Resource Group (NHERG), and lead volunteer for the camp.

While this year’s GSEP STEM Camp may have been a little different than usual, there was never any doubt that it would run this summer. It was the agreement of all involved in setting up the camp that this opportunity was crucial to continuing learning for the girls in STEM.

As predicted, however, there were some challengers to running the two-week camp completely virtually after hosting it onsite for the last eight years. This year there were 12 students who attended the camp, about half the typical number of students from past summers. While the move to virtual may have played a role in the number of students, the slightly lower number of students did not negatively impact the experience gained from attending the virtual GESP STEM Summer Camp.

When asked about some of the challenges faced, Merkel, said that one of the greatest obstacles was “finding a way of getting the necessary support to the campers. Being on video calls all day can be mentally exhausting so ensuring the girls were learning something while not pushing them to be on a computer all day was tough.”

Luckily, the camp had plenty of activities planned to keep the students busy and engaged over the two weeks. Each day the students worked in their groups on various projects that continued to build over the course of the camp.

The first activity students worked on was a coding project. During the camp, the students first learned the basics of coding and eventually completed a final coding project during the second week. The second activity was a “Shark Tank” project to give the campers a chance to learn about being in business and creating a company and product. Students got the opportunity to create a company from the ground up, devising a company name, logo, mission, and slogan. They then created a product for their company to “manufacture” and over the course of the two weeks created a business presentation for their product including manufacturing, distribution, cost estimate, and product life cycle. The groups ended by presenting their final product and business plan to a panel of judges at the conclusion of camp. The third and final activity was a debate. Each group was given an energy type and during the two weeks created PowerPoint presentations leading up to final debates with each group debating in favor of their assigned form of energy.

Along with these various activities, the students virtually attended multiple presentations by a number of NSWCPD employees to showcase different civilian career opportunities in the Navy. A few of the presentations included a Public Speaking Brief by Electrical Engineer Dr. Felicia Powell, as well as a Women in Business Discussion by Logistics Specialists LeTeisha Neufville-Wright and Contract Specialist Grisel Velazquez Vargas.

The end of the camp was capped off by a Women in Science and Engineering Discussion Panel that included NSWCPD Mechanical Engineers Tania Teissonniere-Almodovar and Jasmine Felix, Sail, Hull & Deck Machinery Systems Division Head Susan Carter, Program Manager Catherine Hacking, DDG 1000 Auxiliary Systems Engineering Manager Adria Garhart, and Program Manager Amanda Gaetano.

During this discussion, the panelists spoke about their roles at NSWCPD and their experiences of being women in STEM. Discussion topics included the accomplishment the panelists were most proud of, their favorite places they traveled for work, and advice they would give to the middle school students participating in the camp.

Felix, who works on designing data acquisition systems for ships and test sites, spoke about her experiences, advising the scouts to “be confident in your abilities and continuously vouch for yourself.”

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,700 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel doing research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for Navy ships. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.