May 15, 2013 --
By Carden Hedelt, MCSC Corporate Communications
Marine Corps System Command’s Brett Comer stood in front of a class of Quantico Middle/High School students during a science, technology, engineering and mathematics event and shared a valuable perk from his last job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fl., that got the attention of every student within earshot.
“I rode every single ride, every single day,” Comer said. “No lines, either.”
Comer, who works as a systems engineer for Product Manager, Engineer Systems, was one of several engineers from MCSC at the STEM event, in which students cycled through different stations of activities in hopes of exposing them to concepts central to STEM fields and careers.
The station Comer manned was one he alone conceived while working at Aberdeen Test Center. Comer handed out wooden cars with pegs on the top and instructed students that their cars would have to pass three standard military tests—a tilt table, a loading ramp and a crane lift. The students could change the load on the vehicle, the axle location for both sets of wheels and the sling length on the crane lift test.
Comer’s hope for the day was that students would be able to find the answers to the questions they were asking.
“I did see a lot of kids asking ‘what if we change the payload’ or ‘what if we change the sling length’ and how that would affect the system,” Comer said. “They were more willing to experiment with different configurations because sometimes you can’t do all of the math ahead of time—you have to go through with the test and see what happens.”
Other stations offered students the chance to drive military-application robots, get a closer look at a medium tactical vehicle replacement and construct as tall a tower as possible using marshmallows and spaghetti, among other activities. They also received briefings and instruction from MCSC engineers as well as representatives from NASA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab and local universities.
Both this event and an annual week-long camp in the summer focus on extending opportunities to students to stoke their curiosity in STEM fields.
Meghan Jones, a 16-year-old sophomore, now sees her future in the field of robotics after STEM camp exposed her to the field before her freshman year. She combines her interest in robotics with her love for art.
“I’m more of a designer,” she said. “I like to be able to figure out things in my own way and I like to figure out how to make something that is pleasing to look at too.”
Tyler Aldrich, a 17-year-old junior who is also interested in robotics, displayed a robot he made that can solve a Rubik’s Cube. Using a color sensor, the robot can figure out the three solutions with the least number of moves and execute the simplest solution.
Aldrich has been building robots with his father since he was eight. He remembers seeing a Marine Corps robotics expo at a young age and wanting to be in the field.
“I wanted to learn how to make them,” he said. “Having a robot is cool but being able to make it yourself …that’s what got me into it.”
Both Aldrich and Jones not only see their futures in robotics, but in the Marine Corps as well.
Seeing youngsters take interest in STEM topics motivated Brig. Gen. Frank Kelley, MCSC commander.
“When you get a chance to talk to these kids, you really see the future,” he said. “You see the future of the United States, you see great citizens. I see great future Marines who will be able to perform exceptionally well in the future, whatever our country is facing.”