Naval Information Warfare System Command (NAVWAR) co-hosted the 13th annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League (FLL) Challenge Qualifying Tournament in early November at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista.
The goal was to inspire and cultivate future talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In collaboration with the Eastlake High School FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team TitanBot, they hosted 16 teams from across Soutern California to compete in a series of LEGO robot games to move to the next round of competition.
NAVWAR identifies, develops, delivers and sustains information warfighting capabilities and services that enable naval, joint, coalition and other national missions operating in warfighting domains from seabed to space and through cyberspace.
NAVWAR consists of more than 11,000 civilian, active duty and reserve professionals located around the world.
Founded by inventor Dean Kamen
Founded by inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST engages students ages four to 18 in exciting, mentor-based, research and robotics programs that help them become science and technology leaders, as well as well-rounded contributors to society.
As part of the Department of Defense’s STEM initiatives to cultivate an environment where the United States of America is the world leader in manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence and biotechnology, NAVWAR’s continued involvement with FIRST demonstrates a commitment to inspiring new and future talent in STEM fields to maintain the nation’s competitive advantage for years to come.
TitanBot is a non-profit, student-run organization at Eastlake High School, which facilitates STEM-related activities and mentorship opportunities for younger students.
At FLL Challenge qualifying tournaments, students compete in hands-on challenges designed to grow their critical thinking, coding and problem-solving skills. This year’s game theme was “Masterpiece,” shining a spotlight on the role STEM plays in the arts and empowering young people to design and build a world of endless possibilities.
Around 145 participants aged 9 to 14 operated small-scale autonomous LEGO robots of their own design to complete missions based around the season’s challenge. Each team competed in three 2.5-minute rounds to determine their highest game score, where they tried to complete as many of the 15 available missions as possible.
Additionally, teams presented their robot design, core values and a research project answering the question: “How can you use technology and the arts to help engage others or increase participation in what you love to do?”
A panel of judges comprised of NAVWAR volunteers evaluated the teams’ teamwork skills, design decisions and proposed solutions.
Embody six core values
Participants are expected to demonstrate and embody the six core values of FIRST in all aspects of the competition and with each other: discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, teamwork and fun. Throughout the season as they prepare for competitions, they also learn about the engineering design process, where they identify the problem, design, create, iterate and communicate their solution.
Around 50 NAVWAR and Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific employees were present as volunteers to help the games run smoothly, serving as judges, referees and inspectors.
The inspection table was an informal process set up to give the participants an opportunity to engage with Navy leaders and explain their robot design, hobbies and interests.
Loren Rucker, command master chief at NAVWAR, Tonya Nishio, command information officer at NAVWAR; Capt. Patrick McKenna, commanding officer at NIWC Pacific; Michael McMillan, executive director at NIWC Pacific; and Nicole Stone, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance department head at NIWC Pacific were at the inspector’s table.
NAVWAR Commander speaks to kids
During the opening ceremony, NAVWAR Commander Rear Adm. Doug Small spoke, thanking the participants, parents and volunteers for all their hard work and said the NAVWAR team was ready to hire all the kids for internships immediately.
“It’s wonderful to see the level of commitment, excitement, and enthusiasm you all bring to your teams,” he said.
On behalf of Mayor John McMann of Chula Vista, Wanda Curtis, STEM outreach coordinator at NAVWAR and co-tournament director, presented Rear Adm. Small, Capt. McKenna and the TitanBots with a certificate of recognition. Joel Foust, teacher at Eastlake High School and TitanBots coach, also presented Rear Adm. Small and Capt. McKenna with a plaque commemorating their longstanding relationship with Eastlake High School in support of the tournament.
Other dignitaries from Eastlake Educational Foundation and Sweetwater Union High School District were also present, as well as Carly Jackson, chief technology officer at NIWC Pacific.
Showing off skills
To show participants more about the field of robotics, the Titanbots and W.A.R. Lords, another FRC team from Francis Parker School in San Diego, demonstrated their robots’ abilities out in the courtyard.
Showing off skills like picking up balls, tossing them out again and climbing ascending monkey bars, these robots were built to complete previous FRC competition challenges. Other FIRST teams in different categories, like FLL Explore (ages 6-10) and FIRST Tech Challenge (ages 12-18), also showed off their robots in demonstrations.
“It’s always exciting to see all these teams come together and show off what they’ve been working on,” said Brian Williams, STEM outreach coordinator at NAVWAR and co-tournament director alongside Curtis. “Seeing my colleagues and leaders at NAVWAR and NIWC Pacific volunteering their time is wonderful as well. It’s always a fun-filled day, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Scientists manned technology displays
Scientists from NIWC Pacific manned technology displays, filled with underwater robots and scale models of space satellites that they work on in NIWC labs.
The demonstration was organized by Gabriella Loaiza, a former Eastlake High School student and TitanBot, now a mechanical engineer at NIWC Pacific. The demos included a Slocum glider and an underwater remotely operated vehicle, both of which are used to collect underwater data for various research purposes.
The volunteers answered questions from any curious participants or onlookers and explained the robotics work they do.
“Programs like FIRST are vital because they train the next generation of scientists in a way that they can’t get in the classroom,” said Travis Moscicki, who holds a doctorate in ocean engineering and is the technical design agent for expeditionary underwater systems at NIWC Pacific. “These kids learn how to fail and overcome those challenges together by working on these robots until they succeed.”
NAVWAR STEM started in 2009
Starting in 2009, the NAVWAR STEM outreach program has helped host the FLL qualifying tournament at Eastlake High School, as well as organizing other volunteer opportunities. From brown bag sessions to build the LEGO models used in FLL game tables to informational seminars about becoming FIRST mentors, Curtis and Williams are making it easier than ever to promote STEM within the San Diego region.
This year, there are 47 FIRST teams mentored by NAVWAR and NIWC Pacific employees, across all age ranges and categories.
By mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers, NAVWAR helps inspire a sense of creativity and innovation to work together and solve problems as a team.
Competitions like this allow students to build their confidence, knowledge and technical skills they will carry with them throughout their education and career.
Based on the teams’ scores on the game field and in the judged events, teams will then advance to the next stage of the competition – regionals, which will take place in December. Teams were also awarded for their presentation performance and how well they demonstrated core values, strategy and robot design.
At regionals, teams will then compete for a spot in the FLL California Southern Championship in January.
Story by Lily Chen, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command