“In the fleet and in the operating services, Sailors and Marines are called upon every day to do a lot of really difficult things. They work on the world’s most complicated and best anti-air and anti-missile systems; they maintain avionics systems; they hang ordnance on aircraft heading out for combat missions; and they operate the nuclear power plants on subs and our carriers.” — Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus
These technically challenging missions, take more than intelligence; they require critical thinking skills received from a great education… and that is why the Office of Naval Research has facilitated efforts across the Navy to support education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This blog is one of several highlighting those efforts.
By Megan Hart, Mathematician, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Strategic and Weapon Control Systems Department
“What are you going to do with a math degree?” was a typical question I received from my parents when deciding to major in mathematics.
Unfortunately, many people know that math is important but do not know what can be done with math in the sense of a career. The Dahlgren National Defense Education Program (NDEP) Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP) Summer Academy helps to close this gap and encourage students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.
On a typical work day, I get in, check my email, go over my schedule, and sit behind a computer screen or in meetings. Now to some, that daily routine may sound boring, but to me it can be exciting. As a mathematician at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, I spend most of my time as a project leader and a software analyst to assist in submarine missions.
A few years ago, my daily routine was completely different, as I was a high school math teacher in Stafford County, Va.. I have always had a passion for mathematics and as a teacher I was able to watch the youth grow and develop a passion for math as well. Even though I enjoyed working with the students and passing my love of math onto others, I knew I wanted a more hands on approach with my career. This is when I decided to make a change.
I am now thinking and working with math in new and different ways and love the challenges and tasks I am given; however, I have not lost the passion of watching students grow and learn in the fields of math and science.
Day one, the students walked in with curiosity and hesitation amongst their faces. By the last day, the students walked out with smiles, new friends, and feelings of success as they completed all the challenges they were faced with throughout the week.
The challenges included the following:
- Building a Lego robot to complete as many missions as possible, from rescuing a swimmer to being able to signal the tower.
- Building a water rocket and analyzing how to launch it as high as possible by finding the right pressure to water distribution through test launches.
- Ratios were introduced when students had to build a 9-10” tower out of balsa wood and to maximize the force to weight ratio.
- A life science activity demonstrated how viruses can be transferred from person to person through exchanges and the students were challenged to find who the carrier of the “virus” was.
- Students learned human systems integration (HSI) techniques to test and measure the usability of two different alarm clocks.
It was amazing to see how excited the students were when faced with each challenge. From what I observed from the students in my group, they all genuinely wanted to learn and do the best they could with each task.
Each activity discussed an aspect of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at a level the students could understand. I was then able to engage the students in how these concepts are used or applied in my career, such as the effects of weather and environmental aspects when launching the water rocket or the importance of adjusting testing efforts based on the needs and wants of the customer.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of questions I was asked and the amount of interest that was shown. The students were then able to put forth what they had learned. It truly was a great opportunity for these students and they had fun with it, as did I.
Overall, the students learned a lot throughout the NDEP VDP Summer Academy program and were able to get a hands-on approach with different STEM activities. So now when people say to them “What are you going to do with a math/science degree?” they can answer knowledgeably and confidently.
In the end there were rockets launching, towers smashing, robots moving, and children smiling, laughing, and learning, these are the things I looked forward to every day during the Dahlgren NDEP VDP Summer Academy Program and look forward to doing for years to come.