Students Connect With STEM Professionals at Expo
By PETER ATKINSON, Seapower Deputy Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy League’s third annual Naval STEM Exposition brought area students and U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps cadets together with about 40 companies, education organizations and sea service representatives to make the connections that are so key to furthering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and advances.
“Why does that matter to you guys?” Rear Adm. David J. Hahn, chief of naval research and director of Innovation, Technology Requirements and Test & Evaluation, said in his opening remarks. “It matters because it’s going to be your job tomorrow.”
The Naval STEM Expo, which is co-sponsored by the Navy League STEM Institute and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), kicked off 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition at the Gaylord Convention Center.
About 1,000 people attended the event to get a hands-on look at technologies such as robotics, unmanned systems and virtual reality, and to hear about STEM from those who have put it to work in the hope that they may inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators.
Hahn outlined some of the breakthrough research in fields such as autonomous systems being done at ONR to expand the reach and capability of “those things that we have in the Navy today — aircraft carriers, submarines and ships,” and why that work was so critical.
He offered a set of percentages — 70, 80 and 90 — to put it into perspective. The 70 percent is the area of the Earth that is covered by water. The 80 percent represents the total of world’s population that lives within 200 miles of the coast. And the 90 percent is how much of the goods used to supply that population travels on the world’s oceans.
“The United States Navy since World War II has been the protector of the 70 percent so the 80 percent can use the 90 percent of the stuff that moves on the world's oceans,” Hahn said. “If this part stops, then everything that you know in your daily lives stops.
“My job is to make sure the Navy of today and the Navy of tomorrow are never in question,” he added, noting the Navy and Marine Corps of the future will depend on the young people of today who have an interest in STEM and are willing to see that interest come to fruition. Events like the STEM Exposition, he said, provide a unique opportunity to help make that happen.
“The genius of the folks who set up the Office of Naval Research back in the day is that they recognized that the real genius of our research comes from you guys,” Hahn said. “Our job here today is to connect you with the people who do this stuff right now. And this stuff is pretty exciting. It's all those things that you see movies that you don't believe.
“Since its inception in 1946, the Office of Naval Research has been doing really one thing: connecting people to the networks of science and technology,” he said and he urged attendees to “get connected to somebody who is behind one of these tables who can get you connected to this universe that you see up here up on this screen.”
Attendees has no shortage of opportunities. Along with the robots, human-powered mini-submarines, experiments and drones that were on display were scientists, engineers, educators, entrepreneurs and mentors eager to share their experiences, answer questions and describe the practical aspects of what can come from a STEM education.
Aboard Northrop Grumman’s RV Sperry Star III, aplatform for research and development, product testing and operation training that was docked on the Potomac River outside of the convention center, Dan Markowski stood before a radar test display to speak about his 42 years of engineering experience to a group of Sea Cadets who had traveled from Lebanon, Pa., for the exposition.
In the STEM Expo exhibit hall, John Ingram and Matthew Russell shared their experiences first as members of the RoboBees robotics team from St. Mary’s County, Md., and then as mentors to the team as they went into higher education and the professional world.
Ingram is about to graduate the University of Maryland at College Park and will soon be working at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., where he has been interning. Russell, a graduate of the College of Southern Maryland, is working as a contractor at Patuxent River.
The computer-aided design, programming and electronics work, among other disciplines, that they learned and practiced as part of the robotics team are now being put to real-world use. Now as mentors, they said they were hoping to help other students make that similar kind of connection.
The STEM Exposition also featured the debut of the Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding Mobile Experience, a high-tech traveling classroom in a trailer. Parked outside the convention center, the Mobile Experience can serve as a digital trainer for shipyard employees with touch-screen work stations, digital drawings and advanced software, as well as a traveling exhibit to school to show students advances such virtual reality and 3-D modeling.
Middle-school student Jonas Knudson took a turn with the “Hololens” head-mounted display to get a glimpse of augmented reality engineering. “This is really amazing” he said as he virtually explored a ship’s interior.
“The Navy League’s mission and desire is to put science, technology, engineering and mathematics into the minds of America’s youth and to instill interest in developing basic skill sets to garner these career opportunities through events like the STEM expo. This is the place to begin making those connections,” David Todd, national president-elect and a STEM educator in Portland, Ore., said during the introductory remarks.
Following the remarks, Hahn was joined by Navy League National President Skip Witunski and Todd to present the Alfred A. Michelson Award to Clifton E. “Gene” Athon Jr. for being a “fundamental force” in deploying modern naval nuclear fuel technologies that has led to the current capability for fueling the nuclear navy. The Michelson award honors a civilian scientist, technical innovator or technical organization for scientific or technical achievement that results in a significant improvement in the strength of U.S. maritime forces or to the enhancement of our industrial technology base.
In accepting the award, Athon, who collaborate closely with scientists at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, noted “knew early one I wanted to be an engineer, didn't know where that was going to be taking me, but I wanted to make a different. I feel that I have made some difference in the world.”
It is now up to the generation of students represented at the STEM Exposition, he added, “to make a difference” of their own.