Youngsters learn to say YES! to engineering, science

CHINA LAKE — Fifty-one volunteers welcomed 156 middle school boys and girls to McLean Lab, during the 2013 YES! (Young Engineers and Scientists) conference on April 20.

Rear Adm. Paul Sohl, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division commander, kicked off the event, speaking about the roles of WD, emphasizing the importance of safety and asking hard questions.

NAWCWD Executive Director Scott O’Neil explained the importance of using the tools available today to gain a solid education.

“When I was your age, we did not have advanced science programs available for young students,” said O’Neil.

He recalled an early encounter with engineering. “I was 12 years old and I was thinking as I was mowing the lawn, ‘How did this work? How did the motor transmit power to the wheels and the reel that cut the lawn?’ When I got done mowing, I decided I needed to take the thing apart. So I took the lawn mower apart.

“I thought I understood how it worked and started putting it back together. I got it back together and had a few parts lefts over and it didn’t work, and finally I built up the courage to go tell my dad.”

O’Neil’s dad was irate at first, but soon helped his son reassemble the motor.

“As we put it back together, he told me how the motor worked and how the power was transferred from the motor, to a pulley system, to a chain, to a set of gears that ran the wheels. That was my first encounter with engineering.”

O’Neil then described the steps he took that got him to where he is today, emphasizing how lucky the students are to have a program such as YES! in their reach.

After showing pictures of the first missiles he worked on at NAWCWD, he answered questions.

Students were then deployed to 15 workshops throughout McLean Lab, with each youngster attending three workshops throughout the day.

“It is important that we at NAWCWD and NAVAIR interact with these kids because they are people that will work here and bring fresh and new ideas in the future,” said Steven Garcia, a NAWCWD employee and YES! volunteer.

“These young students are so intelligent and intuitive, and if we spark the interest at a young age, they will do nothing but grow over the years.”

The all-volunteer staff gave time and energy to create exciting learning experiences for the young attendees. Each workshop consisted of 10-15 students and was designed to be hands-on.

“The guys and girls are learning what it means to create a projectile, see how far it goes and what happens if they change one small measurement,” said Mark Everitt, YES! Conference master of ceremonies.

He described the conference as “designed to get them out of the classroom into a hands-on environment, learning about math, science and engineering.

“Our goal is to transition students from a ‘wannabe’ to a ‘gonnabe’ and bring them up in a way that allows them to make good choices when selecting schools and fields of study.”

Zach Burns, a Monroe Middle School student, had a birthday on Saturday and instead of having a party chose to attend YES! for the third year in a row. He said his favorite workshop was ice cream from thin air. He not only learned the properties of liquid nitrogen but also got a unique birthday treat.

“It was pretty cool and very cold,” said Zach.

This is the fourth year of the YES! Conference and it won’t be the last, said volunteer coordinator, Erica Beeler, NAWCWD employee.

It was sixth-grader Jay Hibbs’ first time attending the conference.

“I learned that if you apply less pressure to quicksand, you will float, but the more you apply the faster you sink,” said Jay, after running across a cornstarch-and-water solution designed to mimic quicksand.

“This is a good program because some kids don’t get the hands-on learning experience in the classroom.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-01