DAHLGREN, Va. –
Last year, Jim Jones and another volunteer dad cofounded a STEM club at Fredericksburg Christian School (FCS). The club started just two months prior to the inaugural Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren. That’s all the time the four-man FCS team needed to walk away with the first-place trophy. All it took was a simple strategy.
“One of the reasons we won last year was because we took a basic approach and then continued to build and build and build on it,” Jones said. “We have more time this year leading up to the competition, but we’re going to maintain that same basic approach.”
Jones was one of 17 areas teachers to participate in a training session at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) Dahlgren Campus Jan. 19. The training session led by Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s (NSWCDD) Director of Academic Engagement Michael Clark provided the teachers and school volunteers like Jones an opportunity to become familiar with the process of setting up and testing their schools’ robots for competition. The school representatives were paired up with their assigned mentors who are all volunteers from NSWCDD and the MITRE Corporation.
The Innovation Challenge was born after NSWCDD Chief Technology Director Jennifer Clift and UMW College of Business Lecturer John Burrow recognized a local need for an engaging and exciting STEM-based academic program for high school students. All 12 schools that competed last year are returning for this spring’s upcoming challenge.
During his opening remarks, NSWCDD Technical Director Dale Sisson, Jr., SES, spoke about the importance of STEM education in our schools as an opportunity to foster young talent that one day may be integral to our national defense. “Our technical advantage is at risk today. We have thousands of Sailors aboard ships who are at risk of not being able to come home to their families if they don’t have the capabilities to go win,” Sisson said. “We can’t give them that without the best and brightest people. At NSWCDD, we have a group of talented individuals who really are the best in the world at what they do. But they can’t be that way if you’re not producing this young talent.”
During the competition, the student teams will program robots to run through an obstacle course to recover a piece of gear that is “critical to national security.” Throughout the challenge, the teams will constantly tweak their robots and coding. The team to successfully complete the course with the fastest time will take home the championship trophy and top cash prize.
Westmoreland High School math and science teacher Chastaine Perry believes events like the Innovation Challenge are inspirational for students beyond the potential thrill of winning a trophy and prize money. “They get to see the potential to interact with a machine and program it to do what you want it to do without having direct control over it,” Perry said. “Obviously, that type of automation is becoming more commonplace. So this helps them to get their foot in the door in a way.”
The Innovation Challenge @ Dahlgren is sponsored by NSWCDD, UMW, MITRE, the Fredericksburg Regional Military Affairs Council and the King George Economic Development Authority. It takes place March 31-April 1 at the University of Mary Washington Dahlgren Campus. For more information, contact Michael Clark at (540) 653-9154 or email@example.com.