NIWC Atlantic

NIWC Atlantic

Seed, Nurture, Harvest and Reseed: SSC Atlantic’s STEM Outreach Grows Future Readiness

Charleston, SC (24Mar2017) SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic (SSC Atlantic) hosted their sixth Tri-County Dimension U competition on Naval Weapons Station Joint Base Charleston. More than 50 students from local school districts participated in the event. Dimension U is funded by the National Defense Education Program (NDEP). This math gaming tool (similar to a video game) enhances students’ skills in pre-algebra and algebra. In order to be successful at the game the students and mentors must solve problems to move to the next phase. This event is part of SSC Atlantic’s educational outreach program aimed at developing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) talent in k-12 schools. (U.S. Navy photo by Joe Bullinger/Released)

Much like the rest of the federal government, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic faces the challenge of replacing a highly-technical, but aging, professional workforce whose expertise must be passed down through the organization to ensure success. At the same time, an increasingly complex information technology environment requires even greater technical ability, flexibility and response times.

Two SSC Atlantic initiatives, the New Professional (NP) program and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) outreach, are highly successful on their own merits. Together both programs are creating a combined effort to help to ensure SSC Atlantic is attracting and retaining employees with the scientific expertise needed to meet the demands of complex engineering and technical requirements within a world of rapidly changing technologies.

Over the last 14 years, SSC Atlantic’s STEM outreach and internship programs have hired over 1,200 employees and have retained 1,100. The value and importance of these initiatives prove to be a priority to the incoming workforce generation.

New Professionals

The New Professionals (NP) program was established in 2003 at then-SSC Charleston to focus on hiring the best and brightest new graduates who would eventually be prepared to take the place of seasoned professionals who retire. Since 2003, SSC Atlantic has hired more than 1,200 NPs in program management and in the technical realm.

The two tracks are not mutually exclusive. Many of the skills, training and experiences required in one track are also necessary for success in the other career path. Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) training are two good examples. NPs in either track, need to possess skills in multiple areas such as systems engineering processes and acquisition, and have technical knowledge in computer engineering, software engineering, electrical engineering and computer science.

“These are truly some of the most talented graduates out there,” said Capt. Scott Heller, SSC Atlantic commanding officer. “Each of them brings outstanding technical skills, flexibility in working with new processes, and solid backgrounds in working in collaborative team environments. Our challenge is to capitalize on their talents and enthusiasm, and utilize it to further our mission and to better serve the warfighter.”

Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic New Professionals (NPs) pose for a group photo during an all hands meeting that brought together NPs from across SSC Atlantic sites. The all hands, themed “We Are Future Leaders,” was a unique opportunity to network, learn about NP opportunities and explore Joint Base Charleston.

More than 1,000 of the NPs hired since 2003 are still at SSC Atlantic, and many who left the command still serve the Navy or Department of Defense (DoD) in other government positions. NPs are assigned to all SSC Atlantic portfolios and competencies. They have traveled the world doing whatever it takes to provide information warfare solutions to warfighters.

SSC Atlantic Development Program (SCADP) NPs have a minimum of an undergraduate degree and have graduated within the last three years. They are hired into developmental positions using the following authorities:

  • Direct Hiring Authority (DHA) (Bachelors and Advanced)
  • Expedited Hiring Authority (EHA)
  • Pathways Program
  • SFS – Section 302 of Public Law 113-274 (Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2014)

SCADP is a two-year program where the employee is provided training, developmental rotation opportunities, mentorship and must complete their master development plan (MDP). The MDP guides each employee’s development for the first two years and encourages them to pursue graduate degrees following completion.

Naval Acquisition Development Program (NADP) NPs are government employees of the Naval Acquisition Career Center (NACC) who come to SSC Atlantic to further enhance the Department of the Navy Acquisition Workforce. They are entry-level employees and have their own NAAC requirements and developmental plans that must be completed in two or three years. They are paid by NACC and may be assigned to career fields such as attorney, contracts, engineering, cost estimating, financial management, information technology, logistics, program management, and test and evaluation. They can be converted to a permanent position upon successful completion of program requirements.

Human Resource Career Program (HRCP) NPs are entry level Navy government employees who must complete a one- to two-year development program that focuses on formal training, developmental assignments and rotational opportunities. The employee can be converted to a permanent position upon successful completion. SSC Atlantic typically has one or two HRCP billets per year.

Financial Management Career Program (FMCP) NPs are part of the Pathways Recent Graduate Program (PRGP) which allows recent graduates to enter civilian financial management career positions with the Navy and Marine Corps. They are entry level and their program includes 28 months of professional development through academic and on-the-job training. Upon successful completion of the program, FMCPs are considered for permanent financial positions where they have been training.

Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) NPs are recent graduates with disabilities. The goal of this government-wide program cosponsored by DoD and the Department of Labor is to increase the representation of persons with disabilities in the federal and private workforce.

The NP program is focused on the employee’s professional development and providing rotational opportunities to find their passion in support of our mission and the warfighter. SSC Atlantic NPs are engaged from the moment they check onboard, with a specialized orientation program and tours of labs and project sites to better understand career options available within Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). Coursework in leadership development, teamwork and communications, acquisition methodologies and principles of project management help develop these future leaders. Other opportunities provided throughout the year further develop their technical knowledge and skills in SSC Atlantic’s mission areas.

No matter what specific NP program they are in, each employee is required to have an approved MDP and be assigned a mentor who guides and monitors his or her progress in meeting program objectives. These objectives include formal training, rotations to other program areas of the command, and trips to different SSC Atlantic or other SPAWAR locations, Navy ships or major program offices. Mentors help NPs complete an individual development plan (IDP) designed to ensure achievement of core competencies supporting the command’s mission while furthering knowledge in their particular engineering, scientific or business specialty.

“The NP program is focused on the individual’s professional development. Everything from Dale Carnegie to DAWIA to CMMI training is available to them, and we encourage them to pursue graduate degrees,” said Pam Bell, director, SSC Atlantic Total Force Management.

After 14 years of the NP program’s inception, NPs have not only helped ensure the continuity of SSC Atlantic’s intellectual capital, but they are also helping to attract the next generation of potential employees by reaching out to middle and high schools through SSC Atlantic’s awarding winning STEM outreach program.

“I fully endorse the idea that successful leaders teach and empower their best and brightest employees to become the new leaders for the next generation. Those are the kind of leaders we need, and that is the sort of leader the New Professional program is designed to produce,” said SSC Atlantic Executive Director Chris Miller.

STEM Outreach

Led by SSC Atlantic STEM outreach program director, Shanda Johnson, the center’s outreach efforts began in 2009 with National Defense Education Program (NDEP) support. Each year, the STEM outreach program has grown to include more events and more collaboration with local school districts, colleges, universities and local businesses. Events promoting STEM include FIRST Robotics, SeaPerch, DimensionU, DoD Math Games, Girls’ Day Out, My Brother’s Keeper, Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition, Palmetto Cyber Security Summer Camp, National IT Shadow Day, Lunch Buddies, career fairs, career academies, educators and student shadowing opportunities, trebuchet competitions, school fairs, math and science judging, classroom activities involving speakers and autonomous vehicle demonstrations, and other educational events.

Charleston, SC (March 24, 2017) Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic, hosted their sixth Tri-County Dimension U competition onboard Naval Weapons Station Joint Base Charleston. More than 50 students from local school districts participated in the event. This event is part of SSC Atlantic’s educational outreach program aimed at developing science, technology, engineering and math talent in schools. (U.S. Navy photo by Joe Bullinger/Released)

In addition to the school districts, SSC Atlantic has engaged with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Lowcountry STEM Collaborative, Lowcountry Technical Academy, The Citadel’s STEM Center of Excellence, College of Charleston, Trident Technical College, Society of Women Engineers, the S.C. Historically Black Colleges and Universities Consortium, Department of Energy, Charleston Chamber of Commerce, Naval Health Clinic, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and businesses such as Boeing, Bosch, Google and NUCOR Steel.

The outreach effort has grown to SSC Atlantic’s detachments in Hampton Roads and New Orleans. In 2016 alone, more than 36,500 students and 734 teachers at 125 schools were impacted in 213 events held across SSC Atlantic. More than 450 employees donated more than 21,600 total hours through the STEM and community outreach.

“SSC Atlantic’s outreach has reenergized local schools, students, parents, affinity groups and business partners in the national security imperative to get students interested in the STEM skills,” said Johnson.

Robotics teams from elementary, middle and high schools sponsored and mentored by SSC Atlantic volunteers have progressed to state and national levels.

SSC Atlantic’s cybersecurity outreach has attracted students to the field of cybersecurity. The team created a new cybersecurity module and helped to change the curriculum for the S.C Department of Education’s Career and Technology Education (CATE) Program by including a cybersecurity track. This has increased student interest in cybersecurity and is helping to develop a future cybersecurity workforce in South Carolina.

This has also greatly enlarged the recruiting pools for STEM-related opportunities at SSC Atlantic. In addition to the Pathways employment program, the STEM outreach team implemented two additional hiring programs funded by the ONR’s Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) for high school students and the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) for college students.

Seed, Nurture, Harvest and Reseed

The value of establishing a successful STEM pipeline and employing a STEM literate workforce cannot be understated for SSC Atlantic and for the nation. NPs and other dedicated STEM volunteers are engaging and attracting the future naval scientists and engineers who will fill the pipeline for tomorrow’s high-tech jobs. Working with underserved and underrepresented groups, they are also helping to generate a broader, more diversified base of future scientists and engineers.

Johnson’s theme for the program is “Seed, Nurture, Harvest and Reseed” to convey the idea that SSC Atlantic volunteers begin with young minds at the elementary school level to plant the seeds of STEM career possibilities, nurturing students on the journey that leads them to high school and college internships, and harvesting, through the NP program or other hiring authorities, to becoming SPAWAR employees. Then the new employee returns and serves as a mentor and inspiration to the next generation (reseed).

SSC Atlantic has already begun to reap the return on its investment in the STEM outreach and NP programs. NPs who participated in internship programs in high school and college are currently employed at SSC Atlantic and making valuable contributions to warfighters.

“Our New Professionals grew up in the IT environment and live that social environment,” noted Miller. “Many kids don’t know what engineers and scientists do. NPs can relate to young people on a different level. They show them that people from their same communities, schools and socio-economic backgrounds can be scientists and engineers. They are great role models and can really excite enthusiasm about STEM careers.”

David Parker and Sarah Monk, SSC Atlantic engineers and NPs, both graduated from Hanahan High School and were involved in the command’s STEM outreach program as students and now give back by working with the next wave of future engineers as STEM outreach volunteers. They created an interactive game that educates students about cybersecurity. “Cyber Feud” was presented at the U.S. Naval Academy’s STEM Best Practice Workshop and is now being used by the U.S. Naval Academy in their STEM outreach programs and by other naval labs and warfare centers.

“I really enjoy the chance to give back and demonstrate the things we do every day,” said Parker. “STEM is a fantastic opportunity to inspire the next generation.”

Monk also focuses on reaching out to future engineers. “I have a deep rooted passion for the next generation. Specifically, I want girls to know that they can be engineers. STEM is fun and engaging and challenging. Many of the students I have spoken with think that engineering is math and math is hard, therefore engineering is too hard. With my outreach I have an opportunity to show these students that math is only a small portion for what we engineers do and that, yes, girls are doing it,” said Monk.

“Developing our workforce to answer future needs requires investment,” said Heller. “[That means] investing in our people – in hiring the right folks, in training them, and in determining and developing future competencies in technology, education and business. That is what we are doing here and the New Professionals program and STEM outreach are a big part of our current and future success,” he added.

To view a video highlighting SSC Atlantic outreach activities go to and select “SSC Atlantic STEM Compilation.”

SSC Atlantic develops, acquires, and provides life cycle support for command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, information technology (IT), and space capabilities. A leading edge Navy engineering center, SSC Atlantic designs, builds, tests, fields and supports many of the finest frontline C4ISR systems in use today, and those being planned for the future.