Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR) volunteers encouraged students to tackle difficult challenges and build creative solutions using robotics during San Diego’s 11th annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League (FLL) qualifying tournament Nov. 2 at Eastlake High School.
NAVWAR enterprise and Eastlake High School worked together in co-hosting the event, with more than 50 volunteers from NAVWAR headquarters and its research and development lab, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific, serving as mentors, coaches, referees, judges, timekeepers, scorekeepers, inspectors and more.
FLL is a nation-wide program that exposes students to real-world engineering challenges and software programming techniques through the creation of LEGO robots.
Kicking off this year’s FLL qualifying tournament was NAVWAR Executive Director Pat Sullivan highlighting the power of one idea, motivating participants to push traditional boundaries and explore unconventional solutions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“One idea has the power to do some remarkable things,” said Sullivan. “Take Legos for example, by themselves, they are not very exciting, but when you put them together things start to get interesting. Limits on what is possible lessen with each Lego, each new idea, each new technical breakthrough. It is the ideas of today’s youth, the ideas of the students competing in this competition that will develop those breakthrough technologies, building a better future for our Navy and our Nation.”
This year’s event challenge was titled “city shaper,” with the theme of “building a better tomorrow together.” During the challenge, participants were tasked with identifying a problem with a building or public space in their community and designing a solution for that problem.
Sullivan compared the “city shaper” challenge to the NAVWAR redevelopment effort, an agreement between the Navy, the City of San Diego and the San Diego Association of Governments to explore options for the redevelopment of NAVWAR facilities, including more than 70 acres of property located in the Midway-Pacific Highway District.
“This year’s challenge on city shaping is a great area of focus as it affects all of us and is happening everywhere,” said NAVWAR Executive Director Pat Sullivan. “For example, the innovation and collaboration that you are using here today, is the same force that is driving NAVWAR to collaborate with the San Diego region to potentially design and build a new, modern, 1.5 million square foot NAVWAR facility, in concert with new commercial, transportation and housing facilities in the surrounding area.”
Addressing the “city shaper” challenge, 24 teams consisting of up to 10 students each, all aged nine to 14 years old, competed in four areas: core values, robot design, research project, and a live robot game. Of the 24 teams competing, NAVWAR enterprise personnel mentored five teams.
NAVWAR and NIWC Pacific STEM robotics outreach coordinators, Brian Williams and Wanda Curtis, were the lead organizers for the FLL tournament together with students from the Eastlake High School FIRST Robotics Competition Team, the Titanbots. Curtis has been organizing the FLL tournament at Eastlake High School since its inception in 2008. This is Williams' fourth year as an organizer for the tournament.
“When students are engaged in hands-on STEM experiences, they build confidence, knowledge and technical skills that they will carry with them throughout their education and throughout their career,” said Williams. “NAVWAR volunteers have given thousands of volunteer hours to mentor these students through FLL to encourage the next generation of innovators to pursue an education and career in STEM.”
This year, 42 teams across all four FIRST leagues are being coach by NAVWAR and NIWC Pacific volunteers. This includes 5 FLL Junior teams (grades 1-3), 20 FIRST LEGO FLL teams (grades 4-8), 9 FIRST Tech Challenge teams (grades 7-12) and 8 FIRST Robotics Competition teams (grades 9-12).
“FLL truly is making a difference, inspiring the science and technology leaders of tomorrow,” said Curtis. “This is the 11th year NAVWAR and Eastlake High School have co-hosted the qualifying tournament. During those 11 years, the Southern California region has grown from around 50 to 449 registered FLL teams and I know NAVWAR has been a driving factor in that growth.”
Other distinguished guests at the tournament included NIWC Pacific Commanding Officer Capt. Mel Yokoyama, NIWC Pacific Executive Director Bill Bonwit, NAVWAR Chief Technology Officer Carly Jackson and NAVWAR Assistant Chief Engineer Greg Shaffer.
NAVWAR enterprise scientists and engineers also demonstrated a range of cutting-edge technologies being used by the U.S. Navy today. These real-world technologies provided students with a connection from education to future STEM-related career possibilities.
Winning teams from this year FLL qualifying tournament will move on to compete in the FLL Southern California Regional Championship scheduled for early December at LEGOLAND California. Following the regional championship, some teams will earn an invitation to FLL World Festival as part of FIRST Championship Houston or FIRST Championship Detroit, where teams from all over the world meet and compete.
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