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NEWS | Aug. 18, 2020

NSWC PCD virtually sparks STEM outreach amid pandemic

By Katherine Mapp NSWC PCD Public Affairs

Socially distancing does not mean students must socially isolate, especially when expanding their educational opportunities through virtual means.

As part of an Education Partnership Agreement, Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) collaborated with Florida State University Panama City (FSU PC) to host a virtual science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) camp series known as SciNotes.

The goal of the series is to bring STEM topics to students and teachers during this time of social distancing, when learning opportunities are limited.

SciNotes replaces the traditional in-person FSU PC summer STEM camp for this year, and presents the same topic areas in a video format instead. It consists of several hour-long episodes, each focused on one STEM topic area: civil engineering, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and marine science.

“Because so much of education is now focused on digital platforms, we have to keep up with the times to ensure that we are supporting our mission of preparing students for future employment in the Department of Defense (DoD),” said Paige George, STEM outreach coordinator at NSWC PCD. “This aligns to NSWC PCD’s mission to support the warfighter and is beneficial for our new hires to connect with other employees at the lab, as well as assist them in becoming a part of the community and growing roots in this area.”

Dan Flisek, physicist at NSWC PCD, said the SciNotes team provides students with innovative ways to remain engaged in STEM.

“We hope that delivering this material to students, while not as preferred as hands-on activities, will still give students and teachers the opportunity to see interesting experiments, learn new concepts, and even try some things at home,” said Flisek.

NSWC PCD's outreach efforts aim to be as hands-on as possible, and Flisek believes this is the most effective way to learn and gain an appreciation for the sciences.

“There's something very different about doing an experiment yourself than just reading about it in a textbook,” said Flisek. “Unfortunately with the current climate of social distancing, many of our traditional methods need to be modified. This year we decided to create a video series so students would still have these resources available, even if they can't attend camps in person.”

SciNotes enables students to see and learn the content, and the videos are an easy way to supplement the distance learning curriculum made by their teachers. The hope is the material will still foster an interest and appreciation for STEM topics, even when learning from home.

George emphasized the importance of continuing to conduct STEM outreach efforts.

“The benefit to the DoD is promotion of the mission beginning at an early age. It is also critical for the DoD labs to support the community. If we want to ensure that scientists and engineers will want to work at the labs, then it is beneficial to be an integral part of the community,” said George. “We want to be the partner of choice, collaborator of choice, and employer of choice. STEM outreach plays an important role in all of these relationships, especially during a pandemic when we are able to continue our efforts of promoting STEM to the students in our community.”