SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) aimed to foster innovation and creativity in today’s youth through robotics at the 10th annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League (FLL) qualifying tournament at Eastlake High School, Nov. 3.

FLL supports nationwide Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiatives to motivate the next generation of innovators. The program exposes students to real-world engineering challenges and software programing techniques through the creation of LEGO robots.

"SPAWAR, the Navy and the Department of Defense are dedicated to promoting STEM," said Pat Sullivan, SPAWAR executive director. "It is important for us to support and collaborate with organizations, like FIRST, that inspire our future workforce by making the learning environment relevant to the complex challenges we face today and are likely to experience in the future."

Kicking off the event, Rear Adm. Ronald Fritzemeier, SPAWAR chief engineer, delivered inspirational words of encouragement to students during the opening ceremony, while focusing on this year’s theme of “Into Orbit.”

“You’re all here today because you have an interest – for many of you, a deep passion – and a talent for technology,” said Fritzemeier. “It’s clear that we’re in the presence of amazing creativity and budding scientific problem solvers. These are the sort of minds that will carry forward not only our military, but our government, our technology sector, our private sector, and NASA into a future where a journey to Mars isn’t just something you see on the big screen. In fact, someone here today may well be one of the first people on earth to travel to Mars.”

Throughout the tournament, 16 teams consisting of up to 10 students each, all aged 9-14 years old, competed in four areas: core values, robot design, research project, and a live robot game. Of the 16 teams competing, 10 teams were mentored by SPAWAR personnel.

Additionally, more than 50 SPAWAR headquarters, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), and Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence employees volunteered leading up to and during the event.

"Over the past 10 years, SPAWAR volunteers have given hundreds of hours of their own time to mentor and encourage the next generation of America's scientists, engineers, technicians and mathematicians through participation in the First Lego League's Robotics Competition," said Dr. Stephen Russell, SPAWAR director of science and technology and chief technology officer. "Our team has spanned the roles of speakers, judges, referees, time keepers, scorekeepers, photographers, coaches and mentors, and have also demonstrated naval technologies to inspire the students. We're volunteering so that America has critical talent to call on in the future."

Recognizing SPAWAR for 10 years of support and dedication to FIRST, FLL of Southern California and the EHS FIRST Robotics Team, the Titanbots, presented SPAWAR with a specially-built LEGO trophy. Sullivan and Fritzemeier graciously accepted the award on behalf of command.

Other distinguished guests at the tournament included Greg Shaffer, SPAWAR assistant chief engineer; Bill Bonwitt, SSC Pacific executive director; and Dr. Stephen Russell, SPAWAR director of science and technology.

Brian Williams and Wanda Curtis, both STEM robotics outreach coordinators, were the lead organizers for the FLL tournament in partnership with students of EHS FIRST Robotics Competition Team Titanbot. Curtis has been organizing the FLL tournament at EHS since its inception in 2008. This was Williams' third year as an organizer for the tournament.

“I am so happy we are here to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the SPAWAR/Eastlake High School qualifying tournament,” said Curtis. “The southern California region has grown to around 400 teams over these past 10 years, and I know SPAWAR was a driving factor in that growth.”

With the "Into Orbit” theme, SPAWAR experts demonstrated space-related technologies including nano satellites and space reflectors. These real-world technologies provided students with a connection from education to future STEM-related career possibilities.

Only six of the 16 teams that competed moved on to the next round to participate in the FLL Southern California Regional Championship scheduled early December at LEGOLAND California.

SPAWAR identifies, develops, delivers and sustains information warfighting capabilities supporting naval, joint, coalition and other national missions. SPAWAR consists of more than 10,000 active-duty military and civil service professionals located around the world and close to the fleet to keep SPAWAR at the forefront of research, engineering and acquisition to provide and sustain information warfare capabilities to the fleet.

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