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NEWS | Aug. 18, 2022

NSWC IHD’s New STEM Apprenticeship Program Makes a Splash

By NSWC Indian Head Division Public Affairs

Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division’s (NSWC IHD) Naval Energetics Technology Apprenticeship Program (NETAP) made a splash with its underwater robotics competition at the Naval Support Facility Indian Head’s Aquatics Center, recently. The competition was the culmination of the high school students’ three-week summer internship with NSWC IHD. It marked the end of NETAP’s first season and was a big step towards STEM engagement at NSWC IHD.

“It’s a win-win. Having a high school STEM program is really valuable and gets kids engaged early,” said NSWC IHD Deputy Chief Technology Officer Coit Hendley, who helps oversee the program. “It shows lots of diverse opportunities in the Navy and gets them in for future internships and employment opportunities.”

“The kids have a great time too — they get to build robots and spend the day at the pool,” continued Hendley. “It helps build that community connection too — all the kids are local to the area.”

The nine students in the NETAP were divided into three teams and spent three weeks designing, programming and building an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that could maneuver under its own power. During the competition, each team raced their ROV between three challenges in the pool that tested control, speed, delivery, containment and recovery. The competition featured a submerged obstacle course with 18” rings that the ROVs had to travel through. For each of the three challenges, teams had 20 minutes and could make multiple attempts to set their fastest time. Each of the challenges were designed to mirror actual U.S. Navy systems at NSWC IHD.

In addition to the competition, students had to submit an engineering notebook to track their data and lessons learned and a final engineering report to summarize their accomplishments over the three-week internship. Notebooks and reports were scored along with each challenge of the competition in an effort to demonstrate the engineering process.

“I’m excited to see how three weeks of hard work plays out,” said STEM coordinator Catherine Shingleton. “We treated them as young adults and as employees of Indian Head. They are each walking away with critical thinking skills. I would engineer with them any time.”

As part of NETAP, Shingleton conducted exit interviews with each of the nine students to get feedback to improve the program for next summer.

“The idea is to bring kids back next year as mentors,” said NSWC IHD Chief Technology Officer Dr. Kerry Clark, who oversees the program. “It’s succession planning. We’re training the next generation of Navy scientists and engineers, and it starts right here.”

“We want the keep the best and the brightest in our own backyard,” she said. “As soon as word gets out in the community about this opportunity, the number of applicants and competition will explode.”


NSWC IHD — a field activity of the Naval Sea Systems Command and part of the Navy’s Science and Engineering Establishment — is the leader in ordnance, energetics, and EOD solutions. The Division focuses on energetics research, development, testing, evaluation, in-service support, manufacturing and disposal; and provides warfighters solutions to detect, locate, access, identify, render safe, recover, exploit and dispose of explosive ordnance threats.