NEWS | June 10, 2021

Warfare Centers Partner for Virtual 2021 'Hackathon by the Sea' Competition

By Latasha Ball NSWC Port Hueneme Division

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD), Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), and Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center (NAVFAC EXWC), in partnership with the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE), hosted this year’s Hackathon by the Sea competition virtually, May 21-22.

The virtual environment, hosted through the Zoom platform, provided an opportunity for Southern California students to participate in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-focused event.

More than 50 high school students with a strong interest in STEM and 15 schools participated in the hackathon competition with the theme “Hack the Future.” High school students from Kern and Ventura Counties collaborated in groups on a track of their choosing within the categories “Build the Future,” "Defend the Future,” “Grow the Future," and “Know the Future.”

“The students are guided by mentors into thinking about a product they could create, which addresses some problem in society or beyond," said Ann Campbell, STEM support provider with the VCOE. “Students could build a website, create a game, and make an app for their phone. Each year there is a different theme.” 

At the end of the second day, a panel of industry experts assess the students' projects. According to Campbell, the students are given awards for "Best Overall Judges Choice" and the best in each class.

Ramon Flores, NSWC PHD STEM coordinator, said he and the other STEM coordinators from NAVFAC and NAVAIR started working on the event in January with the VCOE and are excited about how the organizations came together for a common cause.

He also expressed his gratitude toward Julie Judd, VCOE chief technology officer, and Dana Thompson, VCOE director of education technology, to combat technical issues throughout the two-day event, contributing to the event's success.

"I can't overemphasize how awesome it was to have the collaboration of three commands plus an educational agency," Flores said. "These are four very different organizations that came together for a common cause and that is to provide an enrichment program for students; and to help them grow in their STEM careers."

The four tracks encompassed a common theme of thinking about the future, but each offered a slightly different focus. “Build the Future” focused on manufacturing and 3D printing, “Defend the Future” focused on cybersecurity and weapons; “Grow the Future” examined solving environmental issues and sustaining life on other planets; and “Know the Future” challenged students with contributing to the world of artificial intelligence.

Natalie Leon, a junior at Channel Islands High School, said the event taught her skills that she always wanted to develop, such as website coding. She first heard about the hackathon competition after participating in NSWC PHD's pre-engineering program.

“I received an email saying I could participate in the hackathon and I was interested because I never coded a website or games and wanted to learn website coding as well as listen to the presenters because I enjoy listening to people’s background stories with STEM and their experiences,” Leon stated.

Workshops allowed students to hear from individuals working in STEM within the government and private sector, including an employee from Google presenting about building websites and different career paths. Navy mentors hosted workshops related to job searching and preparing students for their future STEM careers, including internship opportunities and navigating the career resource website USAJobs.gov. NSWC PHD and NAVFAC EXWC also hosted a seminar on interview etiquette and communication styles for different generations of people.

“I attended the Navy panel and learned more about internships and how to present yourself at a job,” Leon explained. “It was a very knowledgeable experience.”

The event held a panel featuring former Navy interns who shared about their experiences working for the Navy as interns and transitioning to being hired as full-time employees to complement topics surrounding Naval STEM careers.

“The three labs provided a young cyber professionals panel where we provided staff from the warfare centers who were recent graduates to talk about their experience as young professionals at NAVFAC, NAVAIR and NAVSEA,” Flores explained. “It was well-received because these were near peers, so the high school seniors are four or five years separated from these recent grads. That was a highlight of the event.”

Navy speakers throughout the two-day event consisted of Richard Burr, chief engineer from NAWCWD; Bagrat Minasian, acting technical director for NSWC PHD; and Todd Jones, Navy Expeditionary Combat Enterprise lead with NAVFAC EXWC. Burr shared his appreciation for events like Hackathon by the Sea and how they contribute to the security of the military and the nation’s future.

“What we do at all our warfare centers is something bigger than just a job,” Burr explained. “We support the warfighter, and we have to provide them with the best technologies and the best capabilities because we don’t want our forces—whether Navy, U.S. Marines, Air Force, Army, or Coast Guard—to ever go into a fair fight. That's our job.”

NSWC PHD Acting Technical Director Bagrat Minasian is also an engineer, earning his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and master's degree in engineering management from California State University, Northridge. He vocalized the need for people passionate about STEM to come work for the Navy and Department of Defense.

“We need the next generation of STEM professionals to step up and help us fill the jobs that contribute to keeping our Navy underway, combat-ready and effective and helping our country to be cyber safe,” Minasian stated. “If you're looking for a future in which your unique gifts are valued and make a real difference in the lives of others, I suggest putting the Navy and the Department of Defense at the top of your list.”

Partnering with the Navy on an event like the hackathon is an unforgettable experience for the students who participate, according to Campbell, who stated their substantial contributions make the event a success for everyone involved.

“The Navy brings a level of expertise and professionalism that the average high school student isn't exposed to in their everyday life,” Campbell stated. “The Navy also provided expert speakers, mentors, and judges for this event. Without their participation, this event could not have happened.”

Each student who participated in the competition received a swag bag filled with snacks to keep them fueled throughout the two-day event, including a commemorative t-shirt, a water bottle, and office supplies for their projects.

A select 20 students from the competition also received an engineering kit complete with a microcontroller, wires, a breadboard, resistors, diodes, and other items used to make electrical circuits with different functions, designed to challenge engineering students and help them develop their skills.

Campbell stressed the importance of students thinking about how technology plays a vital role in many industries and how events like Hackathon by the Sea allow them to learn about the many career opportunities in STEM.

“There are and will be many opportunities in the field of technology for today’s generation to sample in the years to come, and often students do not think of agriculture as technical. However, an event like this showed them that in the future, they could combine computer skills with the need to feed a population to create a good career for themselves," Campbell stated. "It also allowed them to learn more about the careers available at the base, both military and civilian, which will be available to them in the future.”