FRCE Engineers Bring STEM Support to Area Schools | News


CHERRY POINT —Students in Eastern North Carolina get hands-on insight into future technical careers, thanks to a small team of engineers and educators from Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) who bring technology to the classrooms class in the region.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) outreach falls under the Fleet Support Team’s Advanced Technology and Innovation (ATI) team. The ATI team develops innovative technology programs and applications to solve problems affecting the FRCE and Navy and Marine Corps aviation. The ATI team has dedicated two engineers and a former teacher to STEM outreach, with the aim of providing educational resources – such as equipment, project plans and volunteers – to area schools to help teachers develop technology-based courses. According to Randall Lewis, innovation manager for the ATI team, the end goal of this support is to encourage students to consider pursuing a career in a technology field.

“Through our outreach efforts, we are able to help local educators plan lessons and provide them with resources that students may not have traditionally had access to,” Lewis said. “We are able to take the curriculum they teach and apply it to more real-life situations that we might encounter in the types of work we do at the FRC. This gives students the kinds of experiences they normally wouldn’t have had in a traditional classroom setting.

The centerpiece of the STEM Outreach program is an innovative mobile makerspace called the FABLAB. This eye-catching trailer features the FRCE logo and “FABLAB” in bold black letters on a red, white and blue backdrop. Inside the 32-by-8-foot enclosed trailer are 10 computer workstations, four high-end 3D printers, a laser cutter, and other equipment designed to empower elementary through high school students to solve problems first-hand engineering.

Recently, the FABLAB paid a visit to Tucker Creek Middle School in Havelock. Students in David Rackley’s Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) seventh grade class stared intently at computer screens as they pondered how to program miniature robots to follow a path crossed on a sheet of paper.

Rackley said the FABLAB tours provide a view of STEM opportunities that many children in regular classrooms may not be exposed to.

“Some students can’t attend STEM classes because of the schedule, so it’s an experience that most kids don’t really have,” Rackley said. “There are a few who are really into robotics or other technologies, but the FABLAB really opens other students’ eyes and gives them the experience of seeing what is possible as a future career.”

Chris Rivera, an aerospace engineer working on STEM outreach for the ATI team, taught the coding lesson to six classes of Tucker Creek students. He said middle school is a good time to reach students with STEM courses to help make engineering and other technical careers more accessible.

“Kids may think engineers are just a bunch of people sitting around computers all day, but we teach activities to show students it’s much more than that,” Rivera said. “They can see there’s actually teamwork, problem solving, communication. Engineering is more of a team sport than the movies make it out to be.

Rivera said the computers are close together in the FABLAB so students can work together to find solutions.

“A teacher might call it cheating, but in the engineering world, it’s fine because you’re working collaboratively to solve a common problem,” he explained.

The STEM outreach team takes advantage of this because one of its members has experience as a classroom teacher. Michelle Smith, education coordinator at ATI, taught STEM courses in middle school before coming to work at FRCE. Smith’s role is to serve as a liaison between area school districts and the depot. In addition to the FABLAB, the STEM outreach program includes sending volunteer engineers to career days, STEM parties, robotics competitions, engineering camps, and other activities where they can leave a positive impression on technology careers in general and on Fleet Readiness Center East in particular.

Smith said the team is focusing its outreach efforts within a 100-mile radius of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, to communicate to local students that they can find lucrative engineering and manufacturing jobs close to home at FRCE.

“We’re trying to strengthen our pipeline for our workforce, getting them interested in engineering careers early, so we can be part of their educational journey,” Smith said. “It is important for us to be involved and provide an opportunity for interactions with current engineers so that students consider engineering and consider coming back to us so that we can keep our local talent here in the east of North Carolina.”

The STEM outreach team recently learned that it has won four new grants from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) New Start program to strengthen FRCE’s existing outreach efforts. The outreach program already has STEM carts, complete with gadgets and activities, at every elementary school in Craven County. The “STEM is Elementary” initiative will allow the team to expand these carts to another local county and create design challenges for young students. “STEM is Challenging” will develop STEM competitions for high school students and engage a more diverse audience beyond those taking engineering courses. “STEM is for Everyone” will bring the FABLAB and other outreach activities to area Boys and Girls Clubs and other community groups. The latest initiative, “STEM is Flexible,” will focus on developing in-depth course packs for teachers to review and present, often with the help of an FRCE engineer.

Lewis said it was gratifying to see how far the outreach program has come since the introduction of FABLAB in 2016. He said that with ONR grants and better communication with area schools, the future is bright for STEM outreach at FRCE.

“We’re able to fund more stuff, so we’re able to do more stuff. It’s only going to be bigger, and that’s exciting,” Lewis said. “It really reflects positively on the FRC and the type of work we do and the impact we have.”

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest provider of maintenance, repair, overhaul, and technical services, with more than 4,000 civilian, military, and contract workers. Its annual turnover exceeds 1 billion dollars. The depot provides services to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the larger United States Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander of Fleet Readiness Centers.


Comments are closed.