In a sight not seen for more than two years, nearly 2,000 students, teachers and parent chaperones from throughout the Central Coast descended upon the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) for the return of Discovery Day at NPS, May 13, touring the university and interacting with the more than 40 inspirational Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) venues set up around the campus.
Discovery Day highlights how the university researches and applies the STEM disciplines to its unique mission of defense-focused graduate education and research, with the goal of inspiring visiting students to develop and hopefully pursue their own interests in the sciences.
“Visiting students are going to get a cross-section of the services and NPS’ science displays in action, from physics to robotics to simulations and more, and potentially stir the juices to make them excited to study STEM further,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Edward McCabe, NPS Air Warfare Chair, and this year’s Discovery Day at NPS Chair.
Groups of students ranging from elementary through high school were guided through the campus by active duty NPS student volunteers to explore and experiment with the various STEM venues manned by volunteer faculty and researchers. Students launched bottle rockets into the sky; piloted ant-weight robots against each other in the Combat Robots competition; tapped into the powers of electricity and magnetism; and, watched art created before their eyes through additive manufacturing.
In addition to the action across campus highlighting the wonder of science, visitors also had the opportunity to see how STEM can help them to reach for the stars. Discovery Day’s special guest, U.S. Navy Capt. Victor Glover Jr., NASA astronaut and an NPS alumnus, was a member of the SpaceX Crew-1 mission, spending 168 days aboard the International Space Station before returning to Earth in May 2021.
Speaking to the audience in King Auditorium, Glover answered questions about being an astronaut and living in space while encouraging students to be resilient, to be good teammates, and to be lifelong learners.
“This is a day of discovery,” said Glover. “This is their chance to run out and see science in action and cause a reaction using their own hands, bodies, voice or creativity. Letting them see science in action that they caused themselves can give them the motivation to continue reaching for their goals.”
In addition to the hands-on venues, NPS also demonstrated its breadth of interdisciplinary studies during Discovery Day through exhibits providing a look into the school’s social sciences and national security affairs curricula. These exhibits painted a global picture of how other regions such as Africa and Latin America view the world, and how they interact with each other.
For visitors, Discovery Day also provides an opportunity to engage directly with servicemembers currently studying at NPS who escorted them around the campus or provided insight at STEM venues. These NPS ambassadors took time from their busy schedules as NPS students to provide a personal voice to the community they are stationed in.
“For many of these kids, Discovery Day at NPS will be their first and possibly only interaction with our uniformed services and to get exposure to what we do here at NPS and our role in the community and for the nation,” said McCabe. “This is also a great opportunity for NPS faculty and scholars to represent [NPS] as ambassadors to these children, using their vast intellect and ability to turn difficult concepts into something that school kids can understand.”
In a first-ever event for Discovery Day, the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Postgraduate School Foundation and Alumni Association helped sponsor NPS’ inaugural Rapid Innovation Design Challenge, giving high school students an opportunity to apply their own intellect to develop and design innovative solutions to critical naval challenges. Developed under the leadership of NPS Department of Oceanography Assistant Professor Mara Orescanin, the regional winners of the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge were announced as the culminating event of Discovery Day.
“We feel very fortunate to participate in Discovery Day at NPS to show these girls what’s out there as far as opportunities for them,” said Amy Mulgrew, a math and computer science teacher at nearby Santa Catalina School who enrolled multiple student teams in the event. “The Design Challenge Championship really gave them an opportunity to work as a team in practice using the iterative process.”
The university has big plans in the works for the future of the Rapid Innovation Design Challenge, with plans to expand its reach across the nation significantly in future iterations.