Weapons Division sponsors summer STEAM camp for local students

Edward Morkunas, a software engineer at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, helps students solder during a four-day coding camp in Ridgecrest, California on June 11-14. (U.S. Navy photo)

Edward Morkunas, a software engineer at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, helps students solder during a four-day coding camp in Ridgecrest, California on June 11-14. (U.S. Navy photo)

Jun 20, 2018

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NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER WEAPONS DIVISION, CHINA LAKE, Calif. - Through the sponsorship of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, 80 rising sixth and seventh graders got the opportunity to participate in a four-day ‘coding camp’ June 11-14 to explore and develop their skills in science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Several members of the Utah-based organization CodeChangers teamed up with employees from NAWCWD China Lake and representatives from the Sierra Sands Unified School District to provide students with 12 STEAM-focused courses. This first-time contract with the organization helped fulfill the outreach and educational goals of both the school system and warfare center.

“We chose CodeChangers because they were able to provide on-site exposure to software development, electronics, circuit design, art and digital logic, while also meeting the requirement to provide all the necessary staff, materials and equipment for the number of students we wanted to reach,” said Angel Zamarron, STEM outreach coordinator at NAWCWD. “I consistently heard feedback from parents whose students were not necessarily sure of the camp or what they would experience when it kicked off, but by the end of the first day, parents told me their students couldn't wait to go back and see what they could do or learn next.”

Within hour and a half blocks, students rotated between classrooms at James Monroe Middle School learning and building skills such as writing programming code, developing video games, creating pixel art, robotics and videography.

“Our camps are focused on helping children become creators of technology,” said Jason Schallenberger, one of CodeChangers’ founders. “Often times, we find that students are glued to their devices and they are consumers of technology, but we’re helping them leverage that interest in technology to be creators. We’re just grateful for the opportunity to have this partnership with both the school district and NAWCWD.”

Each day’s activities built on other skills and projects they’d completed throughout the camp’s courses. CodeChangers’ computer-based curriculum also allowed students to create online accounts with cloud storage to be able to continue their programming work even after the camp ended. Several of the camp’s NAWCWD mentors acknowledged that they, too, walked away with a desire to learn more.

“It’s been different for me because I usually do chemistry-related work, but I’ve really been enjoying it,” said Jessica Cash, a research chemist at NAWCWD. “I think the kids have been enjoying it a lot and it’s actually inspired me to want to learn more programming. It’s such a neat opportunity.”

As parents picked up their students from the camp one last time, they were treated to a video showing the various activities their students participated in and students received certificates of completion in addition to patches based on some of the animated characters they created. NAWCWD Command Master Chief Todd Gruchalla left the students and parents with a few closing words.

“I was able to walk around for a bit and see what these young men and women are doing and it was just fantastic,” Gruchalla said. “Hopefully, after this week, you are all inspired to continue to learn and pursue STEM-related paths and degrees. We need critical thinkers who aren’t afraid to challenge themselves and come up with new and exciting ideas.”

A similar camp will be held for students in the NAWCWD Point Mugu area on June 22.

“By offering camps at both sites in addition to the events we are able to host and offer during the school year, we are given many opportunities to positively influence the lives and potential education options for students in the local communities,” Zamarron said. “I look forward to continuing these opportunities and exploring ways to grow the outreach program for greater impacts for our local students.”


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<p>China Lake, in California’s Mojave Desert, is home to NAVAIR’s Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD). Few areas in the world offer such wide variety of geographical features in close proximity...mountains, deserts, canyons, caves and forests. The unencroached air and land ranges at China Lake provide unmatched geographic conditions in which to develop and test weapon systems and explore tactics for desert and mountain environments.</p>

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