DAHLGREN, Va. –
The STEM program is a staple of Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) - that is not news to anyone. What is news is that one of Dahlgren’s own, Erica Borgers Klonkowski, was recently selected as the Department of Defense (DoD) STEM Advocate of the Quarter for third quarter fiscal 2021.
The award recognizes outstanding STEM education and outreach efforts that further the mission of the DoD. Borgers Klonkowski has been working with the science, technology, engineering and math program since 2012.
“It means that at a higher level, what I’m doing is important,” Borgers Klonkowski said humbly upon being notified that she won. “But I’m a behind the scenes person. I’m not used to being in the spotlight.”
Borgers Klonkowski, the project lead for the Biological Decontamination Team in the Electromagnetic and Sensor Systems Department, was intrigued by science and how things work at a fairly early age when she contracted a highly contagious disease.
“I got chickenpox in eighth grade,” Borgers Klonkowski explained. “I wanted to find out exactly what was keeping me out of school. So, I researched chickenpox and that ultimately led me to biochemistry.” She is currently pursuing a doctorate in biochemistry from George Mason University.
Her husband, Jason, is an amateur filmmaker and the couple decided to combine their passions and create social media videos to highlight much more than just science experiments in their spare time. “There are a lot of experiment videos out there, but not a lot that explain the concepts behind the science,” Borgers Klonkowski said. “I enjoy showing the conceptual part of the science. The ‘why.’” Some of her videos included experiments about epidemiology, DNA, and even a glow-in-the-dark handwashing demonstration.
When it comes to the science of how something is done, Borgers Klonkowski describes herself as an inquisitive person, always asking “why?” She also loves getting that question from children and adults alike when engaging in STEM volunteer events in the community. “[Since COVID started] a lot of our events have been virtual through the Dahlgren STEM Outreach Program. These events give students the opportunity to ask questions and see the conceptual parts of science, but I’ve also received questions from some of the parents,” explained Borgers Klonkowski. “A lot of the parents never realized the kind of work Dahlgren does.”
Among the STEM events she participated in, Borgers Klonkowski was a part of the “Imagine Your STEM Future” week. According to the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, “interaction with female STEM mentors plays an important role in helping girls develop a positive STEM identity that supports interest and persistence within STEM.” Borgers Klonkowski added, “listening to young girls say they can’t do it really pushed me to be even more involved. I hope they see someone like me and realize they can do it.”
Working with children and giving them a way to “find out the truth around you,” has become something that drives Borgers Klonkowski. “I don’t have kids…so these [STEM] events give me the opportunity to share my work with children,” she said. “I have a lot of respect for teachers because that’s where it all starts with respect to the kids.”
Borgers Klonkowski is grateful to receive such a high honor within the DoD and added that she will continue to “keep doing what I’m doing. What I’m doing is really cool stuff for the Navy.”