Members of the Carroll County Community College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Club got a firsthand look at STEM professions in action at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NSWC IHEODTD) during an April 4 tour.
The visit was coordinated through the NSWC IHEODTD Professional Development Council (PDC), named a Naval Sea Systems Command Best Practice in 2011.
"The mission of the PDC is to foster the interpersonal and professional skills of its members, as well as cultivate future leaders, while supporting the mission of the U.S. Navy and NSWC IHEODTD," said Sylvia Rivera, chemical engineer and PDC term chair. "Some of my favorite events to do for the PDC are the community projects that are STEM focused. It's always rewarding to talk to students about STEM fields and relate these topics back to real world work. It's especially interesting to discuss the work done at NSWC IHEODTD—many people don't realize the capabilities of a command that is only 30 minutes outside of [Washington, D.C]."
The 21 students and two professors took in a bomb disposal robot demonstration and toured the Cartridge- and Propellant-Actuated Device (CAD/PAD) manufacturing facility, a bomb proof test facility and the Advanced Energetics Laboratory. "The students here are part of the STEM Club on campus," said Dr. Raza Khan, chemistry professor and STEM Club advisor for Carroll Community College. "Right now there are about 50 STEM Club students with [majors] in engineering, sciences and technology."
Khan wanted the students to not just understand STEM in the classroom, but see those professions in action. "The whole idea is for them to see what people do in real life out there," he explained. "We [get to] see what professionals are doing and also get some experiences we can bring back. We can teach content in class, but we can't teach application. I can teach them chemistry, but I can't show them all of its applications in real life."
The students also learned about STEM-related internship opportunities with the Navy. "The other aspect of why we come out is to see some of the internship opportunities out there—to show the students how to get their foot in the door," said Khan. "We are a community college; at a four-year college they can do research on their own turf. This is our avenue for STEM Club members to see what [research] is like."
Chris Bradford, a student at Carroll Community College and president of the STEM Club, found the tour of the Navy's premiere energetics research and development facilities to be an interesting compliment to his studies.
"The different buildings… [were] unlike anything I have ever seen before," he said. "It was extremely interesting to see how many people from many different backgrounds and different educations can… pull their resources together to solve problems and major challenges. It is always a plus to see people in STEM fields in their work environment because it pushes us to reach our goals and gives us courage to compete our own challenges. I would definitely love come visit again."
While the tour presented several perspectives of the diverse research, development and manufacturing activities undertaken by NSWC IHEODTD, Bradford had a few favorites. "I can honestly say that there wasn't one part of the tour that I didn't like," he said. "My favorites, I would say, were driving the robots at our first demonstration as well as the bomb proof facility."
Along the tour, NSWC IHEODTD professionals offered students like Bradford some of the career wisdom they acquired throughout their years of service to the Navy.
Byron Brezina, an engineer and project manager at NSWC IHEODTD's EOD Department, emphasized the need for STEM professionals to have a strong work ethic. "Engineering isn't for everyone," he said. "You have to be willing to do the work. There are lots of [employment options] and it's a great career, but you've got to stick with it."
Of course, solving complex, highly-technical problems is also a rewarding endeavor for professionals like Brezina. But those interested in a STEM profession must build the necessary cerebral skills.
"The reason you go to college is to learn the tools," Ariel Garcia, a branch manager at NSWC IHEODTD's Systems Engineering Department, told the students. "But it's a lot of fun. Knowledge is cool."