New VMASC Programs Focus on Hampton Roads Youth STEM Education
The Virginia Modeling Analysis & Simulation Center (VMASC), in partnership with the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies in ODU's Darden College of Education and the MSVE department in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, is currently delivering an extensive program of activities that address STEM-related in-school youth programs outlined in an RFP published by Opportunity Inc. VMASC was one of several successful bidders to receive an initial 14-month award with the potential for three subsequent program years.
Portsmouth Public Schools (PPS) has endorsed the effort and has agreed to participate in the project by assisting in outreach and recruitment of eligible youth, confirming WIA eligibility, consulting on how to best operationalize program elements within the context of students’ academic calendar and commitments, and assisting in delivery of certain program elements. The target audience consists of WIA-eligible students in all three high schools within the Portsmouth school district. A minimum of 40 students will be served in this initial grant year.
The two main goals of the program are advancing a higher graduation rate and promoting a higher rate of securing a job or admittance to a post‐secondary education institution. To reach these goals, the program will measure baseline and incremental changes in knowledge, skills and attitudes toward workplace readiness and base career knowledge.
Program lead Yiannis Papelis states, "Through on‐going hands‐on involvement and strategic assistance, it is the program's aim that students who participate will obtain improved workplace readiness skills and be better equipped for their educational career."
VMASC faculty and staff will leverage an extensive network of industrial and government contacts to establish opportunities for summer internship and week‐long job shadowing assignments at participating industry and government facilities and employers throughout the Hampton Roads region, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Huntington-Ingalls – Newport News Shipbuilding, NASA, and MYMIC among others.
With the assistance of Portsmouth Public Schools officials, VMASC will establish in each Portsmouth high school a seminar series that will bring speakers covering a variety of STEM career‐related topics. Special emphasis will be placed on presentations that deliver actionable information on preparing for the job market, career choices and job availability. The project will also leverage prior deliverables to Opportunity Inc. (Visport) as a means of exposing students to port related careers.
For several years now, VMASC has offered summer camps on game development (both introductory and intermediate), general engineering, as well as digital arts for game development. VMASC recently expanded its summer camp offering to a robotics camp in July. The project team will leverage these existing camps by reserving a certain number of slots that will be made available to students participating in the In-School Youth program.
Moreover, special project activities will be offered in the areas of robotics and other structured competitions. VMASC, with assistance from Portsmouth Public Schools science directors, will promote and support student participation in existing technology based competitions and special projects. Students enrolled in the program and who choose to participate in these competitions will receive support in terms of mentoring and technical guidance. The targeted competition is the VEX Robotics Competition, which occurs twice a year.
Administrative staff will also be made available to assist participating youth in preparation of applications for admission to post‐secondary education institutions, as well as preparation of scholarship and financial aid applications. To re‐enforce such skills, certain program activities (i.e., camp participation) will involve an application process and will thus provide opportunity for students to practice. In addition, participating youth will be given opportunities to attend a variety of university level tours, open houses and similar functions at Old Dominion University and other academic institutions in the Hampton Roads region.
VMASC Director of Business Development Thomas Reese says of this initiative, “We are very excited to work with Opportunity Inc. in providing our youth more exposure to science fields, hands-on experiences with technology, career opportunities at major employers, and college preparation essentials. It’s not only part of our mission but the right thing to do for our community.”