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NEWS | March 10, 2023

STEM Education at the Heart of NSWCDD Employee’s Volunteerism

By Diana Stefko, NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Walking into a high school classroom full of young, eager minds would intimidate some, but for Erica Borgers Klonkowski, it’s an opportunity to dazzle and spark inspiration in students with scientific magic. How does she rise to the task? By devoting her time, energy, knowledge and resources to volunteer at local schools and in the community through Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s (NSWCDD) STEM educational programs and sponsored events.

From an early age, Klonkowski enjoyed exploring science and mathematics. Inspired by her advanced placement biology teacher during her junior year of high school, Klonkowski not only cultivated her enthusiasm for STEM, but she also realized she too could inspire other students to pursue those areas. This realization led to her passion for volunteerism and community service.

“To give of yourself is probably the best thing you can do for your community, whether it’s the workplace or for something you are truly passionate about,” said Klonkowski. “I really enjoy working with students. I like to see how they think about different things because it’s often different than how I would think, and it’s just cool. Working at NSWCDD gives me opportunities to volunteer in schools to inspire students like I was inspired.”

Klonkowski, the Responsible Official and Chem/Bio safety officer for the Safety Branch within the Corporate Operations Department at NSWCDD, draws from her expertise in chemistry, biology, mathematics, robotics, technology and engineering to influence young minds into thinking outside the box, developing problem solving and critical thinking skills.

She actively participates in live demonstrations held at schools, such as the SeaPerch Remotely Operated Vehicle program, and supports STEM-themed activities. “Depending on the grade, we work with the students on particular engineering projects and hold competitions. We want to develop their thinking and engineering skills but also make it fun for them and cultivate the idea of teamwork,” she said.

Currently, Klonkowski is working with sixth and seventh graders at Caroline Middle School to brainstorm science fair experiments for their STEM expo. “I, along with several other people here at Dahlgren, contribute by providing real world problems and scenarios; so the kids are actually trying to solve the problems that we present to them through their science experiments,” stated Klonkowski. “I want the students to know that if their experiments didn’t produce the results they were expecting, it doesn’t mean that it was a failure. They should know that it’s just another opportunity to figure out what happened and to think through the scientific process.”

Klonkowski often serves as a judge for school science fairs and gives constructive feedback to students, encouraging continued exploration and development of scientific procedures and methods.

She also attends numerous “Meet an Engineer” events and career days in local schools throughout the year and occasionally serves as a panelist, discussing her role at NSWCDD and other STEM-related professions.

A graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, Klonkowski frequently speaks to rising freshmen in the chemistry department about her position at NSWCDD and the biochemistry field to “promote more interest in the different sciences.”

Klonkowski takes her STEM advocacy a step further with the development of her personal YouTube channel for people of all ages. The channel will offer a more in-depth explanation and examination into various science and technology realms. She anticipates launching the site in early 2024. 

Throughout her STEM programs advocacy and support, Klonkowski has impacted countless students and worked with educators, school administrators and instructors to strengthen collaborative partnerships and efforts for NSWCDD-sponsored STEM programs and initiatives.

In addition to her STEM volunteerism, Klonkowski is an active member with NSWCDD’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee where she works with various departments and organizations internally to support cultural awareness and equal opportunity for veterans and military personnel.

As a result of her dedication to working in the community, Klonkowski received the NSWCDD Distinguished Community Service Award at the NSWCDD Honorary Award Ceremony on March 10 at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center.