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Building Young STEM Professionals: U.S. Navy’s SSP Outreach Teams Cultivate Talent during FIRST Robotics Events Nationwide

01 February 2024

From Lt. Jennifer Bowman

WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Outreach teams are hard at work developing, training, and mentoring young STEM professionals in schools across the nation in 2024.
January was filled with development opportunities for children in classrooms spanning the country—from the Nation’s Capital all the way to Colorado—and SSP’s STEM outreach teams partnered with teachers during multiple “FIRST Robotics” build season kickoff events. 

Anacostia High School (AHS) in Washington, D.C. focused on reinvigorating its robotics team—going by its new club name, the “AnaDroids”—during its For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) event. Anacostia’s robotics club has laid dormant for several years due to lack of funding for development programs like STEM in area schools. Re-inventing and rebuilding the club is due, in large part, to SSP’s sponsorship and is led by the Lead Mentor and STEM Coordinator for AHS Ms. Jacquelyn Timothy, who is no stranger to FIRST Robotics clubs. 

“Seeing the energy and competition experience Ms. Timothy brings to the team is exciting,” said Marvin Turner, STEM coordinator at SSP’s headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard. 

Partnership with STEM professionals like Turner—who volunteer in addition to their normal duties—from Navy commands and organizations across the country is critical to organically developing and recruiting top talent into naval STEM fields. Combining efforts with local educators and organizations like FIRST broadens the reach for talent and lends a hand to teachers who may not have the bandwidth to incorporate STEM-specific lessons into their daily classroom education. 

“In partnership with educators like Ms. Timothy, SSP will be able to effectively provide Naval STEM education and outreach opportunities within the District and surrounding communities,” Turner added. 

This year, AnaDroids club members will focus on STEM and business activities such as software design to program the robot to perform required tasks; mechanical and electrical to build the robot to FIRST and club-required specifications; and website and application design to promote the team and to collect data from other teams to form competitive alliances—among other activities.

Deliberate investments in STEM education and outreach initiatives are among the Department of the Navy’s (DoN) most critical functions and are essential to America's continued technological and warfighting dominance.  

Organizations across the DoN deliver STEM education and outreach opportunities that inspire curiosity and shape a generation of talent prepared for future global challenges. Navy statistics show high percentages of high school and college students interested in STEM degrees—among those are Generation Z. Recent data shows that 67 percent of this cohort wants jobs that will enable them to learn skills that will advance their career, and SSP is among one of the many organizations working to satiate that thirst for STEM knowledge at schools across the country. 

In Kingsland, Georgia Camden County High School (CCHS) and Camden Middle School (CMS) in Kingsland, Georgia got a chance to begin their robotics build season, participate in a competition, and expand STEM learning into the local community in partnership with the Camden County Library STEM outreach. Ten students from Camden Middle School’s STEM program also competed in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Tournament at Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia. The team’s December performance earned them the Robot Design Award and secured them a spot in the FLL Starbase Robins Super-Regional competition. 

The team called “Area 53” lived up to their extra-terrestrial title by building and programming robots to accomplish multiple pre-determined missions. Participants also created an innovation project which aligned to the competition theme “MASTERPIECE.” The rigorous evaluation process required students to present both their innovation project and robot design to a panel of judges without the support of teachers or STEM professionals in the room. 

“The robot runs were scored for not only how many successful missions it was able to complete, but also how precisely it executed the task,” said Andrew Willmann, a metrology engineering technician at SSP’s Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic (SWFLANT). 

The team’s innovations paid off and they advanced beyond the FLL Starbase Robins competition to the States-level competition. Willmann, who also also volunteers as a STEM coordinator for SWFLANT, said the work is very rewarding for the students, the educators, and the sponsors. 

“The unique perspective we offer—derived from our experience at SSP—imparts project management skills, process variation mitigation, risk reduction, critical thinking/questioning attitudes, and creative mission solutions to the students,” Willmann explained. 

“Those skills—coupled with their technical proficiencies—make them vital contributors of future innovations in fields like naval STEM.” 

SWFLANT’s STEM Outreach team also joined the CCHS FIRST Robotics team in partnership with the newly launched Camden County Library STEM Outreach program to bring STEM opportunities to the community in mid-January.  During the event, children ages 2-16 were engaged in innovation, design, and troubleshooting. 

“In true community spirit, when CMS found out about the efforts, they donated one of their STEM carts purchased by SSP and donated it to the library,” explained Caren Spahr, the continuous process improvement coordinator for SWFLANT. 

“We are really excited about this new partnership and proud of our STEM community connections where each program reaches out a hand to help make each other stronger,” she said.

Strengthening investments in students at William J. Palmer high school in Colorado Springs, Colorado is a high priority for the STEM engagement team from SSP’s Project Management Office for Flight Systems (SPF). Recently, students at Palmer completed a project during their build season kickoff focused on honing Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Students created a VR experience using two headsets donated to the school by two leading corporations in the technology sector. Expanding on their technical skillsets, participants also created a holographic experience using the HoloLens 2 headsets, donated by SSP to Palmer’s STEM program. 

“In the near future, something I am going to teach kids about is how to use real-time satellite data to make holographic displays of satellite orbits,” said Sean Wybrant, an educator and STEM facilitator at the high school. 

Wybrant explained that this partnership allows students to visualize data in new ways, provides opportunities to collaborate with other area schools, and allows students to create a future of connected learning through STEM, arts, and user experience design. 

“SSP’s investments in the STEM program at Palmer have changed students' lives on that campus,” Wybrant said. 

“Engaging students in high-tech opportunities to tackle real-world challenges empowers students to see themselves and the world differently.” 

At Mt. Greylock High School in Williamstown, Massachusetts, students benefit from DoD STEM and SSP grants to help them meet the challenges for their 2024 STEM activities. Information Technology Team Lead John Moyer Jr.—working at SSP’s PMO for Shipboard Systems (SPS)—will serve his eighth season as a SSP STEM Outreach mentor at Mt. Greylock. 

This year, Moyer and other mentors from SPS will oversee students’ development of a robot that will have specific requirements including ability to pick a foam ring off the floor; shoot the foam rings into a goal a few feet off the ground; or deliver them into something resembling a mail slot.  During competition season, each match ends with larger challenges such as lifting the robot off the ground by grasping a horizontal chain.  

“The robot is designed and built each year from scratch meaning that each robot is a bit different,” Moyer explained. 

Teams have about six weeks to complete the challenge, at which point they then move on to compete their team’s robot against other schools at regional championships. 

“SSP’s STEM outreach program has an immense reach and influence in the classroom,” said Moyer who noted that a student from the program also worked as a summer intern for SPS.  

“This will be another season where students not only learn something new but build on teamwork and leadership skills while learning complicated engineering and computer programming skills—and SSP gets to play a primary role in their growth!”
The Navy is the most highly skilled, technologically advanced military force in the world, and offers more than 60 career fields in leading-edge STEM fields. To learn more about SSP’s open opportunities within these fields, visit job openings at For Navy careers, visit for more information.

Caren Spahr, Andrew Willmann, Marvin Turner, David Aragon, and John Moyer contributed to this article.

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