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Incoming Female Engineering Students Get a Glimpse of Professional Possibilities During NSSA Tour

EEAP TourMembers of Old Dominion University's Engineering Early Advantage Program are given a tour of Norfolk Ship Support Activity's electronics lab by Electronics Technician Phyllis Hill (left). (U.S. Navy photo by NSSA Public Affairs Technician Anthony Terrell)

The U.S. Navy's Norfolk Ship Support Activity (NSSA) hosted six newly admitted female engineering students from Old Dominion University on July 18, offering the aspiring engineers an opportunity to shadow members of the NSSA engineering department.

Earlier this year, the university and NSSA signed a memorandum of agreement to promote a partnership focusing on the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). That led to a natural partnership with ODU's Engineering Early Advantage Program (EEAP).

Begun more than a decade ago by the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, the EEAP program offers admitted female engineering students - who will be entering an academic discipline in which females have traditionally been greatly outnumbered - a summer program where they can get acclimated to their academic studies before starting the fall semester.

"One of our goals is to expand their knowledge of the engineering field," said Beverly Forbes, director of experiential education at ODU and EEAP coordinator. "Many of them come to us very bright, very excited, with a love of math and science, but don't know exactly what engineering is, or maybe they have only seen a snippet of it. We are trying to give them a broad brush."

While at NSSA, the students were given a tour of the command's facilities, which included many of the technical spaces and labs where engineers were on site troubleshooting problems.

"This is a very high priority for us, looking toward our future," said Dennis Bevington, NSSA executive director. "Providing students with the opportunity to learn and work in the Navy environment, whether it is here or somewhere similar across the enterprise, helps our community build the workforce of the future."

NSSA is a command within the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) enterprise. NAVSEA has made a continuing effort to recruit, develop and retain a diverse world-class workforce that sustains the naval advantage in technical capabilities. NSSA has developed this approach into a staple pillar of its current strategic plan and is focused on a sustainable workforce proficient in the areas of STEM.

"What we are doing here is engaging our local community to build interest in the types of careers that are heavily related to STEM, which is central to what we do at NSSA and around the fleet," said NSSA recruiter Bill Wease. "Old Dominion is on the cutting edge, engaging their students as they transition from high school to college. We are taking a similar approach, so that we too are on the cutting edge, to look innovatively at how we create a future for the students who make up our community."

NSSA partners with several universities and technical schools in Hampton Roads, teaching the skills needed to be successful at a naval command. NSSA believes it is important that students at these institutions be given the opportunity to meet its engineers to ask questions and get feedback on real-world experiences working in and around the fleet.

The trip made a big impression on the soon-to-be ODU engineering students.

"I took a lot of calculus and physics while in high school," said incoming freshman Sierra Cannon. "I really have a passion for math and sciences, so I definitely want to continue with that. I am still thinking about what I want to do, but I have wanted to work on ships to begin with. My major is electrical and computer engineering, so I hope to find work in that field."

The engineering field in the Navy is broad and offers numerous specialty areas, as well as the opportunity to work nearly anywhere in the United States or even around the world.

"This is a great partnership," Forbes said of the ODU partnership with NSSA. "Everyone that we have worked with has been absolutely wonderful. One of the things I've really enjoyed is that everybody is so open to making connections. It's much easier for our students to come here and see how networking works. Everyone from NSSA that we have had a chance to work with has a passion for what they do, and you can't fake that, you can tell it's real."

Founded in 2001, the EEAP program is funded by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and the Batten College. Throughout the competitive program, incoming female freshman engineering students each summer are exposed to the engineering profession and Batten College curricula in an interactive fashion. The program includes tours of local engineering companies and government agencies.