Students Build Robots and Drones to Honor Historic NASA Events> United States Marine Corps Flag> Display


In June, more than 40 local teens gathered at Quantico Middle / High School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., For the 10th annual Marine Corps Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Summer Camp Systems Command.

The weeklong camp fostered a creative environment that allowed local teens to experience hands-on NASA-inspired STEM activities. Students learned to code, built robots, built telescopes, programmed drones to fly, and even created a solar hot dog oven.

“This STEM camp is an opportunity for students to have fun, meet new people, and engage in STEM activities that could potentially inspire them to one day enter a STEM field,” said Joy Champion, Manager engineering skills from the MCSC and federal action agent STEM.

The MCSC and the Office of Naval Research’s Naval STEM Coordination Office have collaborated in its outreach efforts. The Marine Corps also worked with QMHS on this project, as several teachers from the school served as camp instructors.

Throughout the week, students worked in small groups and learned the importance of teamwork and communication in completing complex projects. They gleaned knowledge from MCSC engineers and QMHS teachers, who were keen to impart critical STEM concepts to young learners.

“Events like this STEM camp teach kids to think critically,” said Tom Carroll, deputy portfolio manager for engineering at MCSC. “I always love to see kids go through that ‘A-ha’ moment, when their faces light up after learning how something works.”

The theme of this year’s learning program was “Space Exploration,” related to the Mars landings of its Perseverance rover in February 2021 and the first flight of a helicopter drone called Ingenuity in April 2021.

Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, according to the federal agency’s website. Ingenuity was the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet.

To commemorate these historic events, student groups used Lego pieces to build small motorized vehicles similar to the Perseverance rover. Each team had to build the complex vehicle, complete training races and then use it during the required exercises.

The challenge saw the students take advantage of a trial and error process to come up with inventive ways to test their vehicles. It required teamwork, creativity and, like the namesake of the project, perseverance.

“I really enjoyed seeing the students interacting with each other and working together to find innovative solutions to problems.” Joy Champion, MCSC Engineering Skills Manager and Federal STEM Action Officer

The students also used sophisticated software to embed code into drones. This challenge required teens to calculate air speed and understand air density in order to maneuver their aircraft through a series of obstacles that simulate air missions to Mars.

However, the students were not allowed to touch their drones during the tests. Instead, they relied on software coding to transmit commands through a Bluetooth adapter.

“They had to use software to code the vehicles and make them fly through hoops of different sizes and at different heights,” Champion said. “And they worked as a team to get the job done. “

Several MCSC representatives served as guest speakers during the camp, including additive manufacturing expert Joe Burns, Sgt. Major Michael Cato and Deputy Commander for Systems Engineering and Acquisition Logistics Edwin A. Stewart.

Stewart, who is the chief engineer of the Marine Corps, spoke about great inventors throughout history and their influence on his own journey as an engineer. He said innovators like Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci all shared an unwavering interest in learning, a characteristic that has helped them excel in their respective fields.

“They were all curious and willing to follow these sights,” said Stewart.

One of the goals of the camp is to generate interest in STEM, Champion said. She wants young people to understand that the pursuit of science and technology can lead to career opportunities in fields such as cybersecurity, engineering, programming, computing, advanced manufacturing and more.

Statistics show that an increasing number of young people are joining STEM fields. For example, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that STEM jobs will increase by 8% between 2017 and 2029. This is a higher growth rate than non-STEM jobs.

“We could have future engineers from Marine Corps Systems Command here this week,” Champion said.

Stewart expressed his enthusiasm for the potential of today’s youth and the future of STEM. He encouraged students to follow their interests, always stay curious, and tap into their inner Leonardo da Vinci.

“The world needs technologists for the inventions of tomorrow,” said Stewart. “Your future awaits you.

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