NHHC maintains 10 museums across the country, which all continue to expand the minds of today’s youth and anyone else seeking a wealth of knowledge or new skills. Each offers various education programs, including focused activities on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. Some locations include arts as part of their program for a STEAM-based approach, and both styles of programming include history lessons to provide context.

According to the Department of the Navy (DoN)’s Naval STEM Strategy, the main goal of STEM is “to inspire, engage, and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers, and to attract, employ, develop, and retain our diverse technical workforce through collaboration to promote an effective and efficient STEM portfolio across the DoN, the federal government, and the broad STEM community.” These programs, whether in person or virtual, are offered free to the public as a service to our communities.

Although COVID-19 changed the availability of on-site learning experiences, NHHC’s museums have ensured STEM/STEAM programs continue to present Sailors in the fleet and civilian students with creative opportunities to gain a new range of skills and learn about naval history.

One of the museums ensuring these programs successfully reach their audience is the Puget Sound Navy Museum (PSNM), located in Bremerton, Wash.

“Creating exceptional, inspiring experiences for learners of all ages is the ultimate goal of the PSNM’s Education Department,” said Carolyn Lane, Director of Education at PSNM. “Participation in a PSNM STEM/STEAM program will cultivate wonder, build experience and expertise, construct conceptual meaning, and lead to greater understanding of the Navy, its technology, and its mission!”

Lane stated PSNM collaborates with the U.S. Naval Undersea Museum, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS & IMF), Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Division (NUWC-Keyport), and local public schools to conduct Navy STEM Days.

During Navy STEM Days, fourth and fifth-grade students can learn how to operate sophisticated machines like those used on navy shipyards, build robots from supply kits, and participate in workshops lead by each partner organization.

“During the Pandemic, Navy STEM Days have been held virtually with classes logging in from either their classrooms or the students’ homes for a new workshop daily for an entire week,” said Lane. “On average, Navy STEM Days serve approximately 1,500 students annually.”

Through Navy STEM Days, students also learn to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are reflected in many Navy careers from experienced individuals, including volunteer personnel, active-duty Sailors, historians, local educators and more.

“Each partner brings different strengths and areas of expertise that allow us to offer the strongest possible programs to our audience,” said Lane.

She noted the impact of these events wouldn’t reach as many children, families, Navy personnel, or community organizations without the steady efforts of the education partnerships.

Two other great examples of education partnerships with a wide reach come from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM), located in Norfolk, Va., and the National Museum of the American Sailor (NMAS), located in Great Lakes, Ill.

“I think it's important that we focus on STEAM, rather than just STEM,” said Laura Orr, Director of Education at HRNM. “Our Lego Shipbuilding event [Brick by Brick] has allowed us to create strong partnerships with the local community through our local Lego enthusiast group, the Hampton Roads chapter of the First Lego League, and several local Lego robotics groups.”

While students get to build Lego ships, they also focus on principles of displacement, buoyancy, and surface area.

“Our Lego event is always a challenge to run because it's so involved, but it's very fulfilling,” said Orr. “Being able to reach over 5,000 kids and adults in one day, through a medium that many people love, means a lot.”

NMAS ran with their own idea for a Lego-based learning event and unveiled another version of the crafty hands-on experience.

“Inspired by the success of HRNM's ‘Brick by Brick,’ NMAS debuted ‘Bricks and Bluejackets’ in 2019,” said Tricia Menke, Curator of Education at NMAS. “Bricks and Bluejackets’ invites local families to the museum where they can use Legos to build ships and other naval scenes, and enter their designs in a competition.”

Menke stated “Bricks and Bluejackets” widens the scope of HRNM’s ship-focused event by highlighting additional scenes of naval life, including training, aircraft, and other vehicles Sailors operate. Due to COVID-19, the events went virtual, but there are hopes to resume in-person events in the future.

NMAS’ larger STEM event, the Navy Great Lakes Regional SeaPerch Competition, will be returning to an in-person status this year, noted Menke. The museum hosts the annual competition for middle and high school students within the local community.

“Teams of students build a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) and then test their ROVs in a series of challenges based on real-world scenarios,” said Menke. “NMAS partners with Recruit Training Command (RTC) to put on this event, where students have the opportunity to meet and work with RTC Sailors.”

Menke stated the return of the Navy Great Lakes Regional SeaPerch Competition is a huge accomplishment for NMAS. The 2022 Navy Great Lakes Regional SeaPerch Competition will take place on April 9, 2022, and registration is currently open. 

“While still protecting the health and safety of our students and Sailors, we're able to bring these two groups back together to promote STEM education and relationships between Sailors and civilians,” she said. “Our local school districts and extracurricular organizations are extremely dedicated to SeaPerch.”

These museum STEM programs have garnered attention from local leadership and people involved at every point in the educational spectrum.

“Our district does not keep specific metrics on this, but I dare say this is one of the most beneficial and top supporting partnerships our students enjoy district-wide,” stated Mark Anderson, Director of Career & Technical Education (CTE) for Central Kitsap School District, in a letter of recognition. “They are involved from top to bottom bringing STEM-like activities that challenge our elementary students all the way up to our seniors.”

One teacher echoed Anderson’s sentiments in her own letter of support.

“The STEM outreach program has been in place long enough to yield tangible results,” said Mary Tanner, a 5th grade teacher at Emerald Heights Elementary. “I have had three female students starting college this year reach out to tell me they have chosen fields in chemical engineering, medicine, and biology as a result of our time together.”

Tanner stated she would not have had the courage to tackle science and engineering herself without the support of the Pacific Northwest Navy Partnership and museum STEM programs alike.

“Imagine the number of students from our district that have been influenced by the learning and opportunities provided by the motivated Naval partnership staff,” she said. “Mission accomplished. We can officially say generations of students are impacted by the innovative and harmonious environments created by this team of dedicated individuals working together to bring science to the masses.”

The CTE Director also sees effectiveness in the combined efforts between dedicated individuals from these museums and shared partnerships with the local community for students.

“These folks absolutely bring STEM to life here in our district and make student connections to STEM careers more tangible and attainable than all other groups combined,” said Anderson. “Our students are consistently experiencing successes with fun and unique STEM challenges presented by this group, and subsequently looking in the mirror and seeing themselves as future engineers.”

Reflecting on how education methods have changed in recent years, the goals of STEM programs and those at the forefront of teaching their participants have not changed.

“While students spend most of their time having fun building Navy ships with Legos during our program, I hope what they walk away with is a better understanding of what the Navy does in present day and also how important the history of the Navy is to the history of the United States,” said Orr.

Lane noted she also wants to make sure all participants leave programs with a smile, having learned something and had fun throughout their experience, but most of these educators can agree on one main focus.

“Our number one goal is always that the students learn something new - a new skill, a greater understanding of how STEM is used in real-world scenarios,” said Menke. “I also hope they come away with a better, more personal, understanding of the Navy.” 

Thanks to the goals upheld by these educators, their teams, and successful partnerships with local communities, these naval museums have shown there’s no stopping them as they look to cultivate and fuel those who pursue greater knowledge and new skills to take into the future.

For more information from NHHC’s museums, visit www.history.navy.mil/visit-our-museums.

Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.