Mission Complete: Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren a Strong Win for STEM

By: Lisa Chinn Marvashti


Keegan Kearl tapped out calculations on his cellphone while Christopher Ashley and Rodrigo Alexander Veliz hunched over a laptop. All three, along with their Spotsylvania High School teammates, were intent on making a robot do their bidding.

The teens were among more than 70 students representing 12 districts—from Richmond to North Stafford, and throughout the Northern Neck—at last weekend’s début Innovation Challenge @Dahlgren, conceived as an annual event. Fredericksburg Christian School took home the top prize—$3,000, a ginormous trophy and a year’s worth of bragging rights—in the two-day robotics-style competition aimed at boosting STEM learning.

“This is an opportunity to show how important these skills and capabilities are,” University of Mary Washington College of Business lecturer John Burrow told the competitors at the start of the contest, held at UMW’s Dahlgren Campus. “Your goals are important to the nation, the region and the community.”

Fifteen teams from 13 public, private and governor’s schools employed a collection of skills—Python coding, sensor integration, navigation, detection, command and control—to establish communication with an “EV3” robot on wheels. Their charge was to program the mechanism to maneuver a mat, navigating the “sea,” avoiding “land masses” and “civilian freighters,” and detecting, acquiring and acting on a target.

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