MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
Middle school students sat in their auditorium chairs at Quantico Middle/High School on the morning of June 13, patiently waiting for the kick-off of this year’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Summer Academy aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.
“This is a great opportunity for you to learn, experience and collaborate as teams,” said Jeannette Evans-Morgis, deputy to the commander for Systems Engineering, Interoperability, Architectures and Technology at Marine Corps Systems Command. “Think of the many STEM careers where you can use what you’re learning this week. Maybe you’ll end up working as an engineer for the Marine Corps or the private sector.”
The STEM Education Alliance—a partnership between the Department of Defense and the College of William and Mary—hosts the annual camp, designed to create opportunities for STEM professionals to mentor in the classroom. Every year the command and school join forces to help students solve real-world STEM challenges in a fun setting.
“We understand that not every child will become an engineer,” said Mike Ferraro, engineering competency manager for MCSC and a camp organizer. “But, if we can get students to consider a STEM field, we open doors for more diversity. Having a smart, diverse workforce with expertise in these fields is vital to the mission of the Navy and Marine Corps.”
With energy as the theme, students explored various sources that power their everyday lives. Projects incorporated wind, solar or hydropower to demonstrate their value. Attendees also learned how Marines use renewable energy daily to do their work.
“Energy is an important aspect to Marines working in the field,” said Tom Carroll, assistant program manager for MCSC’s Information Systems and Infrastructure, and a camp organizer. “For example, solar power decreases the dependency on traditional generators, which lightens their load.”
Students were split into teams and paired with a teacher and an engineer. Each day, the teams—with names like STEMtastic, STEM&M and Thunder Busters—engaged in friendly competitions and showcased their projects – from solar hot dog cookers to hydropower turbines to solar-powered race cars.
“The idea behind the challenges was to show how energy can work for us,” said Carroll. “Throughout the week, we had activities that were complicated enough to think and be creative, without discouraging the kids.”
Outside, students rotated through stations with activities teaching the potential of solar power. John Peters, product manager for MCSC’s Expeditionary Power Systems in Combat Support Systems, explained the Ground Renewable Expeditionary Energy Network System, or GREENS. The portable solar panel system, equipped with rows of stackable 1,600-watt solar panels, provides up to 300 watts of continuous electricity for Marines in remote locations.
“Oh, cool!” said one student while watching the voltage numbers go down as the solar panel was covered.
“How do you think we obtain needed energy at night or when there is no sun?” Peters asked the students. “Well, we store extra energy in battery storage devices. This means Marines can charge their devices no matter the weather or location.”
Having engineers onsite to explain the concepts and inner workings behind them is a unique benefit for the STEM Academy, and a rewarding experience for volunteers, Ferraro said.
“We know this is making an impact, because during the school year the kids will reference what they learned in class,” said QMHS teacher John Hubert. “Everyone has the opportunity to come out and learn.”