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NEWS | April 22, 2022

Supporting STEM: Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren Targets Critical Area Need

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

“STEM” learning – science, technology, engineering and math – has been a priority for decades. But fewer young people in the U.S. are pursuing these subjects, and that puts the nation at risk.

The Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren represents a powerful partnership set to take aim at this critical need in the Fredericksburg region. The robotics-style competition pits teams of high-schoolers against one another in a race of Python coding, sensor integration, navigation, detection, and command and control. Its début on Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30, features students from public, private and governor’s schools – from Richmond to Stafford and throughout the Northern Neck – and puts a spotlight on the need for STEM programs.

Held at the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren Campus, the event is presented by UMW; the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD); MITRE Corporation; and the Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council.

“This collaborative effort offers an amazing hands-on learning experience for area high school students, demonstrating UMW’s commitment to the regional economy and development of talent for in-demand STEM jobs,” said Mary Washington President Troy Paino.

Future leaders in everything from software development and artificial intelligence to the environment and pharmaceuticals will gather for the two-day competition. Their mission? Establish communication with a tiny robot on wheels, program it to maneuver a mat – navigating through the “sea” and around “land masses” – then detect, acquire and act on a target. Winners will split a cash prize of $5,000.

The contest is the first installment of what organizers hope will become a three-part event, involving not only high-schoolers but also college students from across the country and small businesses. But it all starts in the classroom.

“STEM education is more important than ever in the United States,” said NSWCDD Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift.

“We need a workforce filled with critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers who are ready to tackle difficult challenges.”

Washington & Lee High School in Montross was the first to sign up for the competition, which delivered micro-processing kits to each participating school and assigned mentors from STEM professions to teams. Sponsors and supporters from various industries have come together to make it all possible, and elected officials, school board members, business leaders and other VIPs will be present to cheer on the students.

Spectators are welcome, and the event will be livestreamed on YouTube via a link – www.umw.edu/innovationchallenge – that is set to go live once the Innovation Challenge gets underway.

“This collaboration and partnership provide the first steps to developing an innovation hub right here in Dahlgren,” said Nick Minor, director of economic development for King George, the event’s host county. “Creating that hub requires diverse young thinkers, and the Innovation Challenge is a perfect example of how a community can inspire new STEM learning and develop our community's next innovative thinkers.”