Navy Mentoring Programs Make Dreams a Reality for Sailors, Scientists, and Students

By John Joyce, NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications

DAHLGREN, Va. - How is the Navy making dreams a reality in the fields of science and engineering for wounded warriors, interns, new employees and students in middle and high school?

The Navy scientists and engineers who celebrated National Mentoring Month in January said the answer has not changed since they were "mentees."

They responded unanimously with one word - "mentors."

President Barack Obama agrees.

His Presidential Proclamation of National Mentoring Month, 2014, stated that: "In every corner of our Nation, mentors push our next generation to shape their ambitions, set a positive course, and achieve their boundless potential. During National Mentoring Month, we celebrate everyone who teaches, inspires, and guides young Americans as they reach for their dreams."

National Mentoring Month began in 2002 as an outreach campaign to focus national attention on the need for mentors - individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities and nonprofits - to work together to increase mentoring of our nation's youth with the hope of assuring brighter futures.

Scores of scientists and engineers respond to this call by mentoring young students in the classrooms and robotics competitions in addition to the summer camps and laboratories at the Navy's surface and undersea warfare centers.

They enjoy inspiring their young colleagues and students to "live the dream".

Inspired by shows like Star Trek, many Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) mentors began their own careers with a dream.

As mentees, they found mentors in school and in the workplace who encouraged them to expand their imaginations.

Dreams became reality and mentees became Navy scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and physicists, who work on programs and technologies such as lasers, sensors, missile systems, unmanned surface, air and underwater vehicles, quantum mechanics, nano-technology, and electromagnetic railgun.

Today - as mentors themselves - their mission is now turning dreams into reality in the Navy for others.

NSWCDD scientists and engineers have shared their stories and explained Navy mentoring programs and partnerships in the following comments and blog style remarks.

As you read their written reflections, quotes, projections, and information about programs, it becomes clear that mentoring is important enough to celebrate throughout month.

Dr. Thomas Murphy, NSWCDD engineer based at Combat Systems Direction Activity (CDSA), Virginia Beach, Va.

Note: Dr. Thomas Murphy has made it his mission to help wounded warriors complete their education and join the Naval Warfare Center team. Murphy - a chemical and mechanical engineer - mentors injured and ill service members, who are part of the Disability Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career opportunities available once they leave the service. The program assists those leaving the service due to any type of medical issues, whether it's combat wounds, injuries or illness.

"The warfare centers and NAVSEA (Naval Sea Systems Command) in general have been really effective and very active in trying to reach out to wounded warriors in their hiring and recruitment of them. I go over the phenomenal opportunities that exist in STEM fields, the financial compensation available - both working for the government and working in the private sector. I encourage them to get their math skills accessed while they're still on active duty. I've managed to get into a little niche here, reaching out to wounded warriors. There are a lot of people who are trying to do what they can to help the veterans."

Dawn Chandler, NSWCDD Human System Engineer and mentor

"Mentoring occurs in many ways here at Dahlgren. There are formal mentor relationships, informal mentor relationships, and the mentoring the Virginia Demonstration Program (VDP) STEM program provides in middle school classroom in the surrounding counties. In all of these cases, the goal is the growth of mentees in technical and leadership roles. A mentor is a role model who does not attempt to create a 'mini-me', but instead guides the mentees in the directions they need to explore for their future."

Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fox - Systems Engineer assigned to NSWCDD and the Directed Energy and Electric Weapons Program Office for Railgun Platform Integration

On active duty military members and STEM mentoring: "If we don't take an active role, we might not have a future for engineering in the country. My particular role is not just about mentoring engineers, but, as an engineering duty officer, to have people realize that there are actually STEM applications in a military uniform. It's critical to our future."

John Wright, NSWCDD senior engineer and STEM coordinator

Note: FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is a non-profit organization with the mission to design accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in STEM.

"The FIRST program's ability to build excitement through competitions draws the students into the STEM aspects of the program. The other aspect that we (NSWC Dahlgren Division) see as attractive for future scientists and engineers is the program's focus on team work. We have seen teams pull a part off their own robot to provide to another team in need of that part in order to compete. That level of teamwork is what we look for in engineers and scientists that support our mission at the Naval Warfare Center - and we see FIRST developing it in future generations. We're currently trying to find STEM mentors who live in rural counties to volunteer at their local school. We want to put more of our scientists and engineers in the classroom."

Jane Bachman, Human Performance in Simulation Lead Engineer, Virginia STEM Learning Module Coordinator, NSWCDD National Defense Education Program FIRST Site Coordinator

"I appreciate our personnel's enthusiasm, innovation, and mentor participation in STEM-related activities to encourage the next generation in pursuing a Navy-focused STEM career in addition to their mentor participation in accelerating our own knowledge transfer at NSWCDD.

One of the Naval Sea Systems Command strategic business plan's 2013-2018 mission priorities, Technical Excellence and Judiciousness, states in its focus area (Accelerate Knowledge Transfer) that we must, 'seek innovative ways to accelerate the transfer of knowledge to those coming into the jobs now and in the future.'

In my eight-year observation of the STEM Navy-focused activities evolving from what is now called the Virginia Demonstration Project at NSWCDD, the following local-area participants have benefited: the current workforce (NSWCDD scientists and engineers); teachers (via professional development); the future workforce (middle-to-high school students) and NSWCDD personnel who provide behind-the-scenes support.

It is very exciting to experience an increase in our inter-departmental scientist and engineer STEM mentoring participation and collaboration programs. We also enjoy expanding STEM-related activities such as Sea Perch, one-day summer camps, and FIRST team competitions in addition to increasing female student summer academy and sixth grade class participation."

Sea Perch is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle in an in-school or out-of-school setting.

Dena Kota, Ph.D; Toxicologist, NSWCDD Asymmetric Systems Department:

"When I started working with the National Defense Education Program's (NDEP) Virginia Demonstration Project (VDP) in 2008, some of my goals were to show that science and engineering can be fun, that it applies to many aspects of our everyday lives, and that it was not just a career field for men. I was able to engage students in middle school classrooms and show them that what they were learning from their textbooks did have a real purpose and would be useful to them later on. By using robotics and other non-traditional teaching methods, students who didn't think they were good at science and math realized that they could complete tasks in engineering that they didn't think were possible. It turned a disengaged student into a student who wanted to learn more."

Matthew Hornbaker, Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense Division Operations, NSWCDD Asymmetric Systems Department

"Increased focus at the national level for STEM education is good news for the Navy and the nation. I believe that emphasizing an education heavy in science and technology, coupled with programs designed to spark student interest in science, will certainly help steer kids towards careers they might not otherwise have considered. I saw firsthand how NDEP VDP, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, is helping to ensure the next generation of Navy scientists and engineers.

NDEP's VDP STEM Summer Academy uses Lego robots and balsa wood tower building as a platform to teach the kids basic concepts of math, engineering, and computer science. The program helps give these future scientists and engineers an appreciation for the underlying science behind the technology they often take for granted."

Audrey Lohr, NSWCDD New Employee Development Manager and Mentoring Lead

"Mentoring has been a very important piece of our command's workforce development efforts and senior leaders at Dahlgren have really strived to ensure that it is an inherent part of our culture. In hosting the Flash Mentoring events, it has personally been very inspiring to see senior leaders at Dahlgren so eager to share their experiences and lessons learned in the hopes that they can help that person coming in the door behind them. The benefits of mentoring for the mentee are commonly understood; what has really struck me is the great benefit that the mentors get to enjoy. I would highly encourage employees at any level in their career to take advantage of that opportunity and seek out a mentor.

Another recent addition to the mentoring program is the Flash Mentoring series. These are morning-long sessions with various leaders across the organization serving as mentors, facilitating discussions in a small group setting. NSWCDD has had three very successful events since beginning the series, with the upcoming event scheduled for March 5, 2014. The theme is 'Developing Your Organization, Your People and Yourself'. The discussion topics will cover communication within and outside the organization, increasing performance, strategic planning and developing yourself."

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