Two adults show presentation to students sitting on floor in classroom

Fleet Readiness Center East aerospace engineer Timothy Gillikin and Laura Nelson, C-130 Fleet Support Team senior subsystems engineer, discuss engineering with students at Bogue Sound Elementary School in Newport, North Carolina, as a part of the depot’s National Engineers Week outreach efforts.

FRCE inspires next generation of engineers during E-Week activities

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) recently engaged thousands of Eastern North Carolina students with interactive, STEM-based learning activities as part of National Engineers Week. 

The depot’s STEM Outreach Team conducted a total of 54 events at 39 local schools, engaging over 4,700 students in celebration of National Engineers Week. Also known as E-Week, the national observance is one of the largest science, technology, engineering and math events in the United States.   

Outreach efforts play a pivotal role at FRCE, enabling the depot to expand its reach and connect with the local community, according to FRCE Executive Director Mark Meno.  

“Engineers Week is a great opportunity for the depot to reinforce its commitment to the community and inspire the next generation of engineers and aviation professionals,” said Meno. “By inspiring students to explore STEM-based career paths, we not only help shape their future but also foster a more innovative future workforce for Eastern North Carolina.”

While National Engineers Week officially falls on Feb. 18-24, FRCE’s STEM Outreach Team extended its efforts over a four-week period, beginning Feb. 15 and ending March 13. This year’s E-Week outreach efforts was the largest in FRCE history, according to FRCE K-12 STEM Education Outreach Coordinator Michelle Smith. 

“Engineers Week continues to be one of FRC East’s largest STEM outreach efforts,” said Smith. “With the depot’s ongoing growth, our outreach efforts have become increasingly critical in shaping the depot’s future workforce by allowing us to engage, inspire and educate students about the STEM-based careers at FRC East.

“Over the years, the popularity of E-Week has grown,” Smith continued, “giving us the opportunity to extend the event beyond just a single week.”

Over 100 FRCE engineers volunteered to visit local schools to discuss the importance of STEM education and the role it could play in their future careers. FRCE aerospace engineer Timothy Gillikin said the outreach events positively impacted many students.   

“We use E-Week as a time to talk about STEM and engineering,” said Gillikin. “But we also really like to share what we do with the students because many of them know about Cherry Point and the base, but most don’t know about what FRC East does. We go into schools and really open their eyes to the sheer number of jobs and opportunities there are at the depot.”  

Kari Stallings, Academically or Intellectually Gifted Program teacher for A.H. Bangert Elementary School in Trent Woods, said the depot’s E-Week outreach efforts were beneficial for her students.

“It was a positive, hands-on learning experience for my group of fourth and fifth graders,” said Stallings. “They had a great lesson prepared where the students were able to test their engineering skills and learn through trial and error as many engineers do.

“It really opened their eyes to the different career paths in engineering that they may not have ever considered before,” Stallings continued. “My students are very inquisitive, so they enjoyed learning about all the different engineering opportunities available to them in the future.”

FRCE electrical engineer Zach Shuler emphasized the importance of introducing students to STEM-based learning at a young age.

“When investing in people and potential future employees, finding those who are already local to the area as they are more likely to stay and build a career here is very beneficial,” said Shuler. “It’s important to raise awareness early to get people invested in pursuing a career at FRC East.”

Many of the E-Week activities included open-ended design challenges rooted in engineering to encourage students to think outside of the box, according to Shuler.

“These challenges are always fun because there’s no one solution. The purpose of this is to help them work on their creativity by encouraging them to think outside of the box to find a solution,” said Shuler. “With every activity, I would see a group of students make something and I’d think to myself, ‘Wow, I would have never thought to do that.’ It’s very cool.”

One E-Week activity presented the students with a challenging scenario, according to Gillikin. Known as “flying paper devices,” the activity challenged students to design a flying device made entirely out of paper with two objectives: cover the maximum distance possible and remain airborne for the longest time.

“With this challenge, we have to make sure to emphasize that this is not a paper airplane challenge; this is a flying paper device challenge,” said Gillikin. “You might be pigeonholed into one way of thinking about a problem, but you’ve got to make sure you understand the objective. This is huge in engineering. You can’t begin to solve a problem until you know what you’re being asked.”

Shuler agreed with Gillikin that this challenge can be difficult for some students.

“When people hear us say, ‘flying paper device,’ they immediately think of paper airplanes,” said Shuler. “But actually, if you take a piece of paper, crumple it up into a ball and throw it, that’s a flying paper device that we know will go pretty far.”

To reach as many young minds as possible during E-Week, the FRCE STEM Outreach Team offered both in-person and virtual events, said Shuler.

“Virtual events can occasionally be less interactive but when I paused for questions, the students asked so many great, engaging questions,” said Shuler. “They were super interested in what was going on and they really loved the activity we did with them. The teachers even said the students really got something out of it. It was a great experience.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

Three students work on project at a table in a classroom

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) STEM Outreach Team engineers recently assisted 39 Eastern North Carolina schools with engaging STEM-based learning activities in celebration of National Engineers Week. Over 100 FRCE engineers volunteered to participate in the outreach efforts.

Student stands on top of chair holding a project made with a plastic bag

As a part of the Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) STEM Outreach Team’s celebration of National Engineers Week, over 100 FRCE engineers recently visited 39 Eastern North Carolina schools, engaging over 4,700 students in fun engineering activities. Students from A.H. Bangert Elementary School in Trent Woods participated in a STEM-based learning activity called “safe landing.” This activity challenged the students to create a device that allows a cup containing a ping pong ball to land without the ball falling out.

Man gives students a presentation in a classroom setting

Fleet Readiness Center East aerospace engineer Timothy Gillikin assists students from Morehead City Middle School in Morehead City, North Carolina, with a STEM-based activity as a part of the depot’s 2024 National Engineers Week outreach efforts.

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