Despite a global pandemic, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic leveraged their long-standing support to regional robotics programs and collaborated with more than 60 FIRST Lego League (FLL) volunteers to adapt community programs into virtual opportunities.
NIWC Atlantic supports over 100 FIRST teams annually and consistently has over 200 volunteers involved in the program. NIWC Atlantic provides a mentor to each school supported and the mentors work to build a relationship with the school, students, teachers and community.
NIWC Atlantic’s 2019/2020 FIRST robotics season reached over 1,000 students at nearly 100 schools. However, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the robotics season abruptly ended. The setback did not affect the spirit of members of the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Share and Learn community.
Key volunteers from the community recognized the need to develop a virtual event, bringing together FLLteams, coaches and volunteers from across the globe to celebrate the City Shaper Season. In just four weeks from idea to execution, a team of 60 FIRST volunteers from around the world hosted a world-class all-virtual tournament for the students.
“Inspiring and engaging students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is vital to growing our future workforce,” said Tonya Hamann, NIWC Atlantic’s STEM outreach coordinator.
In April, 48 teams across 20 countries participated in the Virtual Open Invitational (VOI), a robotics event that brought in more than 5,000 viewers from around the globe. Nineteen teams across all FIRST programs collaborated to manufacture and mail medals and trophies to teams that participated in VOI and its companion Virtual Expo for junior students.
As part of VOI, students from fourth to eighth grades had to build robots and complete missions. They pre-recorded videos for their judges to view. Teams also performed live robot runs that referees scored.
One of the volunteers, Aaron Bongiorno, is a junior at Palmetto Scholars Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. Aaron was also an active member of the two FIRST teams supported by NIWC Atlantic during the 2019/2020 season; FIRST Tech Challenge 8477 Rhoming Robots and FIRST Robotics Competition 3489 Category 5.
Giving back to the STEM community is part of Bongiorno’s ethos. He has actively participated in FIRST programs on NIWC-sponsored teams since third grade and is currently a Dean’s List Finalist for FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). With previous experience as a game announcer and FLL referee for South Carolina FIRST LEGO League, Bongiorno felt it was natural for him to support the VOI as a game announcer and enjoyed volunteering for this role because it provides an opportunity to have fun while interacting with the teams.
He also enjoys drawing the audience into robot matches and doing this in a virtual realm added to the challenge.
“It is great to see all the different approaches teams take to solve the missions on the FIRST LEGO League field,” he said.
Bongiorno also believes that VOI highlighted the need to be flexible and gave him the opportunity to adapt to the changing world environment quickly while responding to the needs of the community to meet the mission, and honing the leadership skills he has learned from participating on FIRST teams. Students like Bongiorno highlight the importance of NIWC Atlantic’s role in the community.
“Students, educators, and parents want to continue the stimulating activities during the summer months,” Hamann said.
NIWC Atlantic will also be hosting a virtual cybersecurity summer camp and a virtual Girls Day Out camp. Each event will offer a variety of engaging and educational classes to enrich the next generation of NIWIC employees.
Information on how to register for the camps are on social media at:
https://www.facebook.com/GDOCharleston/ and on Twitter @GDOCharleston
https://www.facebook.com/CyberSummerCamp and on Twitter @CyberSTEMCamp
For more information regarding the event and to visit the virtual pits, please visit http://virtualopeninvitational.org/VOImainpage.html