Parents Watch in Amazement as Middle School Students Solve Tough military challenges with robotics at Navy summer academy

Story Number: NNS130703-20Release Date: 7/3/2013 12:32:00 PM
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By John J. Joyce, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Public Affairs

DAHLGREN, Va. (NNS) (NNS) -- Parents listened intently as Navy and Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP) leaders spoke about the annual week-long VDP summer academy and its potential to transform their children's outlook on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The National Defense Education Program (NDEP) sponsored VDP STEM summer camp Parent Day on June 26 was a date the outlook of parents would also be forever transformed.

Parents watched in amazement as their children - among 95 middle school students - used STEM skills to solve problems of Navy interest at the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) sponsored VDP event here, June 24-28.

The students joined their mentors - 19 Navy scientists and engineers and 19 middle school teachers - to work in teams on STEM summer camp activities and projects impacting simulated naval robotic missions.

"This year the students displayed excitement and were engaged in all of the STEM events," said Jane Bachman, VDP STEM Dahlgren Academy Director. "It was our first year at King George Middle School (KGMS) and our first year hosting a "Parent Day" for parents to see first-hand what their child is experiencing during the STEM focus week."

In addition to the Dahlgren School, the participating middle schools came from the Fredericksburg City, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford school districts.

"Students worked hard on their STEM activities and excitement filled the air," said Bachman. "Watching the team collaboration among the students is inspiring as they not only help their team members but other teams as well. Our junior mentors have been working hard and expanding their leadership skills."

Navy officials - including Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Commander Capt. Michael Smith - anticipate the students may one day use their STEM skills at Naval Warfare Center laboratories to design future technologies supporting U.S. warfighters and America's homeland defense and security.

The NDEP VDP goal is to increase the attraction of the Navy's Warfare Centers and Shipyards as an eventual place of employment for students participating in the program.

"STEM career information is packed into one week," said Bachman, an NSWCDD lead scientist. "The goal of the academy is to provide middle school students with a variety of STEM activities as they interact with our Dahlgren scientists and engineers and STEM focused middle school teachers."

The program teams up teachers with practicing scientists and engineers from the mentor-rich environment at the Naval Warfare Centers. During the school year, science and math themes featuring robotics problems are integrated throughout the curriculum.

Moreover, the College of William and Mary impacted VDP and the summer camp by developing a curriculum for students who learn about STEM at military bases and providing training to Navy Warfare Center mentors.

NDEP's VDP process is more than students learning how to program robots or build, assemble and demonstrate the projects. It's also about team building and is all inclusive.

NDEP VDP originated under the Office of Naval Research N-STAR (Naval Research - Science and Technology for America's Readiness), a science and technology workforce development program launched in 2004 by the Office of Naval Research. It was initiated to show a diversity of pre-teens and teens that math, science and engineering are fascinating, fun and socially relevant.

Since its inception, VDP's ultimate goal has been to establish educational outreach programs at other Navy research and development centers throughout the country.

The initiative could eventually expand beyond the Navy and evolve into a national demonstration project encompassing all Department of Defense laboratories in a sustained effort to secure the long-term competitiveness of America's science and technology workforce by hooking more kids on math and science at an earlier age. As a result, the number of students earning university degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology is expected to exponentially increase.

"On behalf of the VDP STEM Dahlgren Academy Planning Team, we thank all of the students, parents, VIPs, mentors, behind-the-scene workers and KGMS for their participation and encouragement in our STEM program as we highlight STEM careers," said Bachman.

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