DAHLGREN, Va. –
Lucas Durham grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, far away from the warm sun and cool waves of the state’s popular beaches. While his high school didn't offer advanced classes in computer science, that didn’t stop him from building his first computer.
He enjoyed the project so much that it led him to major in computer science at Clemson University. At the time, Durham had no idea that physically building the hardware had nothing to do with his computer science classes. “I was halfway through my first semester before I began to understand what computer science and programming were,” he said.
After graduation, Durham joined Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) as a computer scientist, and now works as the Test Tools Group lead, creating software tools and automation projects. He also made it his mission to advocate for and provide the STEM opportunities that he missed out on as a younger student. Durham is receiving the NSWCDD Distinguished Community Service award for his work as the NSWCDD STEM Outreach In-School Lead.
According to the citation, Durham coordinated, planned and moderated 77 “Meet an Engineer” virtual events in fiscal 2021 for five surrounding county school systems providing more than 2,400 middle and high school students the opportunity to interact with NSWCDD engineers and scientists. The students also learned about career opportunities in STEM-related fields and the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Durham is modest about the award and believes that his STEM co-lead, Megan Troxel, deserves most of the acclaim. “She came up with the idea for the virtual events when we needed a way to continue the STEM program while students learned in the virtual world during the pandemic,” he said. “We are a team. It’s hard to do anything without her.”
He credits Troxel’s idea with extending the reach of NSWCDD’s STEM program, stating that they can now work virtually with schools further away from Dahlgren. Durham is also thankful for the NSWCDD community of engineers and scientists who generously volunteer their own time and efforts in supporting the program.
For Durham, the real reward is engaging with the students. He works with students he claims are better coders than he is and others who have never used a computer before due to lack of educational resources. “In this role, I get to share my passion for computer science with students and open their minds up to a possible future of their own in a STEM career,” Durham said with a smile.
His career in computer science has given Durham a greater sense of purpose. “I always tell students and adults alike that the best part about being a programmer and why I chose to be one is because, through coding, I get to help people and hopefully make their lives easier.”