Man on the left stands in front of the FABLAB trailer holding a foam glider airplane and children stand on the left watching him

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) FABLAB Lead Engineer Christopher Rivera, right, stands next to the FABLAB outside of Grover C. Fields Middle School while teaching sixth grade students the fundamentals of fixed wing flight. The FABLAB is a mobile makerspace equipped with tools and technology to assist in STEM-based lessons. With the help of FRCE’s engineers, the students assembled foam gliders and performed a series of tests on the center of gravity to find the best construction for optimal flight stability.

FRCE provides local students with exciting learning opportunities

The Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) STEM Outreach Team recently visited a local middle school to give students hands-on exposure to tools and techniques they may encounter if they pursue a technical career field.

FRCE visited Grover C. Fields Middle School in New Bern Jan. 17 with two goals: providing engaging educational resources to sixth through eighth grade students in the Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program, and assisting teachers in developing technology-based lessons.

According to FRCE Innovation Lead Randall Lewis, the hope is that providing these resources will inspire students to consider careers in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field.

“By giving students this exposure, we are able to enhance their education and open their minds to new possibilities,” said Lewis. “Not only is STEM-based education an important part of their curriculum, but it could also play an important factor in their future. FRC East has a large and growing workforce, many of which are STEM professionals, so having outreach events is very important.”

The FABLAB, a mobile makerspace, makes these hands-on lessons possible. The self-contained unit is a 32-foot-long, 8-foot-wide enclosed trailer equipped with devices used in the STEM field, but not commonly found in most classrooms. The equipment includes 3D printers, a laser engraver, laptops and circuit boards. The unique features of the FABLAB provide students with learning opportunities different than the lessons they might receive in a traditional classroom environment. The FABLAB primarily serves students within a 100-mile radius of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and is often seen at schools and local events.

David Rackley, an AIG program teacher for Grover C. Fields Middle School, said he finds the FABLAB to be a beneficial tool for students. He said he enjoys using STEM lessons in the classroom as it can open the students’ minds to new career paths and ideas.

“I love these events. I enjoy seeing the students do things they don’t normally do because it helps them learn and grow,” said Rackley. “I bring the FABLAB in so the students get those experiences with things they normally would not have in the classroom.”

Rackley said not only do the students enjoy these outreach events, but it also encourages them to pursue careers in the STEM field.

“They love it. When they hear FABLAB, they are more interested in the FABLAB than they are in coming to my class,” said Rackley. “And in middle school, they don’t really know what they want to do career-wise. That’s one of the reasons we do this kind of thing, so we can give them that experience.”

During the event, FABLAB Lead Engineer Christopher Rivera and electrical engineer Zach Shuler introduced the students to the fundamentals of fixed wing flight with foam gliders. The students assembled the foam gliders and performed a series of tests on the center of gravity to find optimal flight stability. Rivera said seemingly simple activities like this can spur a lifelong interest in a student.

“My favorite part about this job – primarily in terms of outreach – is introducing something new to a student,
especially when it’s not something they would have ever encountered in their life, or didn’t think they’d be interested in,” said Rivera. “Seeing the students enjoy something they’ve never encountered before, or didn’t know existed, has been incredibly rewarding.” 

FRCE K-12 Educational Outreach Coordinator Michelle Smith serves an important role within the depot’s outreach initiatives. Prior to her FRCE career, Smith taught STEM classes to middle school students. Now, she coordinates with teachers to ensure the FABLAB activities correlate with the students’ curriculums.

“It’s important for the FABLAB activities to support the curriculum the teachers are already following,” said Smith. “Our outreach team does an outstanding job creating informative and enjoyable STEM-based activities for the students. We hope they encourage the students to pursue further STEM-based education, and eventually a STEM-based career.”

Rivera said tying the FABLAB activities to the teacher’s lesson plan also allows for customization.

“When we partner with local school systems, we can bring in a premade lesson where we introduce the students to an engineering concept, whether that be computer-aided design or additive manufacturing,” said Rivera. “We can also find a lesson that the teacher is already doing with their students. For example, say they are working on a clean energy project where the students have mocked up windmills or solar farms. We can come into that class and teach the students how to actually design them. And then, for demonstration’s sake, we can 3D print them in the FABLAB so they can use them as aids in their presentations.”

Lewis has been with the outreach program since the introduction of the FABLAB. He said he is proud of all that the STEM Outreach Team has accomplished.  

“Our outreach program has come quite a long way, especially since the introduction of the FABLAB, and we are constantly brainstorming new ways to improve,” said Lewis. “I am looking forward to the program’s future initiatives.”

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.

Man stands on the left helping female student on the right with foam airplane

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) electrical engineer Zachary Shuler, left, and FABLAB Lead Engineer Christopher Rivera, middle, assist sixth graders at Grover C. Fields Middle School with their foam gliders. As a part of FRCE’s outreach program, engineers took the FABLAB, a mobile makerspace, to the local school and provided students from the Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program with engaging STEM-based activities. FRCE engineers introduced the students to the basic concepts of fixed wing flight prior to helping them assemble their own foam gliders. Students then used their newfound knowledge to perform tests on the gliders’ center of gravity to promote optimal flight stability.

Two female students stand outside and one is throwing a foam airplane into the air

Sixth grade students at Grover C. Fields Middle School test the aerodynamics of the foam gliders they made with the help of Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) engineers. FRCE sent two engineers to provide the students with hands-on, STEM-based learning experiences. The engineers introduced the students to the basic concepts of fixed wing flight, which applies to any aircraft that does not primarily use rotating blades to generate lift.

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