MDA Hosts Inaugural STEM Ed Workshop

MDA Hosts Inaugural STEM Ed Workshop

Educators explored problem-based learning and the engineering design process

The Missile Defense Agency Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Program Office hosted a successful inaugural STEM Education Development (STEM ED) workshop in Tysons, Virginia, on July 17-21. MDA Executive Director John H. James Jr., who conceived this initiative, served as the keynote speaker for the workshop.

During his speech, James touted the importance of STEM fields and the value of diversity in STEM. In addition, RDML Johnny Wolfe, program executive for MDA Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program Office, gave an address on STEM careers, wherein he validated the importance of education in developing the STEM pipeline. During the weeklong STEM ED workshop, 19 kindergarten through eighth grade educators from across the country explored problem-based learning and the engineering design process while engaging in hands-on STEM activities.

The workshop’s agenda included presentations and tools for hands-on learning by MDA STEM professionals to relate STEM concepts to missile defense applications as well as teacher classroom instruction. Understanding the science behind STEM tools, such as circuits with littleBits (electronic building blocks) and thrust and drag with zip-guided missiles (balloon rockets), and their numerous classroom applications facilitates versatile lesson plan development. MDA volunteers included LCDR Doug Raineault, Lt Col George Nuno, Benjamin Outland, Mark Glenn, and Chuck Piersall. Additionally, participants toured the Aegis Training and Readiness Center at Dahlgren, the Carderock tidal basins and model shop, and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum.

The multifaceted workshop was developed in response to teacher requests for specific techniques to teach STEM subject matter and inspire the pursuit of STEM careers. As such, it provided a depth and breadth greater than many of its kind, with one participant describing STEM ED as “the absolute best conference I’ve been to in over 30 years of teaching.” This noteworthy event was the result of months of preparation by the dedicated MDA STEM staff, primarily Lara Stubbs, Dr. Barry Scott, and Monique Schaefer, who worked diligently under the leadership of Dr. Patricia Gore. Their efforts produced a workshop that participants highly praised, with remarks such as:

“I want to commend the MDA STEM ED team for creating a stellar professional development workshop. I’ve gained a measure of confidence in being able to lead the effort in creating a STEM program at my school.”

“STEM ED has altered my perspective on STEM and has given me the tools necessary to inspire my students.”

To further gauge immediate success, MDA STEM provided pre-workshop and post-workshop surveys. The results showed that 69% of participants gained a better understanding of STEM concepts, and 90% of participants experienced increased confidence in their ability to effectively teach the engineering design process. The most significant aspect of the MDA STEM ED program, however, is the substantial impact that will result in the years to come: 19 educators x 20 students x 1 year = 380 students each year.

Each of the 19 participants has been equipped for the school year with new STEM lesson plans and MDA-provided activity kits for their respective classrooms. Since the STEM ED workshop three months ago, one participant alone has already influenced approximately 1,000 students by sharing newfound knowledge and resources among her colleagues. Through such exponential growth, STEM ED will continue to inspire STEM interest and cultivate STEM competencies among numerous students each year. In the words of one participant, “I greatly admire the intentionality of MDA to extend STEM knowledge to the masses!” With Year 1 of STEM ED in the books, this MDA STEM Outreach program is off to an excellent start. To read about other MDA STEM programs, please visit MDA STEM Outreach at

By Tami Ullom, Missile Defense Agency