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Leading the Way in Computer Science Education at Washington High School

College and Career Academy
  • WHS College & Career Academy
Tori Peterson



Scientists and engineers from the Trusted Microelectronics Division at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane visited Washington High School on April 12-16, 2021 to guide the Project Lead the Way Computer Science classes in authentic projects customized for students. This is the culmination of a year-long collaboration with Washington HS Computer Science teacher Matt Riney to help his students learn technical, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills and explore STEM career opportunities. 

Washington High School piloted the program, with NSWC Crane hoping to expand to other high schools in the future. Angela Mann, Engagement and Strategy Lead, stated their goal is to bring a workforce pipeline into NSWC Crane. “We want to give students a glimpse as to what we do so students will become excited about working at Crane.”

During the first day, Crane personnel spoke to the entire student population about their experience in the workplace. In addition to sharing their own educational backgrounds, they emphasized that it is possible to pursue a career in STEM while living close to home.  “We hope that the students also learn about Crane and what we are doing,” said Dr. Adam Duncan, Electrical Engineer. “There is a real shortage of engineers to solve the problems we are working with. We hope these students will be inspired to study STEM  in college, and come back and intern with us and even join our workforce.”

Throughout the week, scientists and engineers worked with students in small groups on projects designed to simulate real-world problems. Students worked on three separate projects simultaneously. 

Cybersecurity (SEC) students practiced being the “bad guys.” Learning how the enemy thinks helps students learn how to make their systems more secure. Students “hacked” into a Rocket Launch System and combed through code to identify the arm and launch codes of the rocket. The scientists and engineers from Crane developed a rocket launching system, so that if a student entered the correct code, the rocket would launch. The cybersecurity students then used their knowledge of being the “bad guys” to develop ideas to prevent unauthorized access of our systems and presented their ideas at the end of the project.

The entry level coding (Computer Science Essentials, or CSE) classes worked on a Protected Volume Control project, creating a secure, protected space. They learned about light sensors, conductive tracing sensors, and switches, and how to code these sensors so an alarm sounds when activated. Students then used engineering skills to create a protected volume by designing a box to hold secret information. They designed the box so if someone opens or cuts into their box, an alarm will sound. Students then traded boxes and tried their best to break in. At the conclusion of the week, students presented their designs and received input on what they learned and how they applied their knowledge.

 “I’ve enjoyed the class very much,” added senior Zachary Doolin. “I’ve really enjoyed the text-based coding. It was fun to build these protected volumes where an alarm goes off if you try to breach it.”

The AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) class worked with Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGAs. FPGAs are microchips that are widely used in many electronic devices. Students learned how to operate and manipulate coded FPGAs by creating a version of the video game Pong. Students presented their changes and findings to the professionals at the end of the week.

“The week was good for both the students and their instructors from Crane,” said Riney. “I think by Friday they were all insanely proud of the results. Our AP class was mastering a project over FPGAs that is usually taught to upper-level college students. It was a great experience for the kids because of what they were exposed to and it sets them up for success.”

The enthusiasm of both the guest instructors and the students is something that has Riney hoping they can duplicate with future sessions like this one. “This week was so positive,” said Riney. “It was one of the best weeks of my teaching career. I am really grateful for this partnership with Crane. This was really exciting.”

“We launched our College & Career Academy to illustrate opportunities exactly like this,” said Steve Peterson, WHS Principal.  “We need a talent pool to fill local opportunities and attract new ones so our community will grow and thrive. We’ve had large scale collaborations with Daviess Community Hospital and now NSWC Crane, as well as a host of smaller community interactions. We want kids to see a future where they play a role and can understand the value of education.”




Washington Community Schools would like to thank the following individuals at NSWC Crane:

Brian Stuffle

Division Manager

Trusted Microelectronics Division 


Angela Mann

Engagement and Strategy Lead

Trusted Microelectronics Division


Dr. Stephen Howell - CSE Mentor

Chief Scientist

Trusted Microelectronics Division

(PhD is in Physics, Nanoscience Specialization) 


Alyssa Robertson

Hardware Cybersecurity Branch Manager

Trusted Microelectronics Division


Dr. Adam Duncan - AP CSP Mentor

Electrical Engineer

Trusted Microelectronics Division

(PhD is in Computer Engineering)


Dr. Austin Roach - SEC Mentor


Trusted Microelectronics Division

(PhD is in Plasma Physics)


Tina Closser

STEM Coordinator

WestGate Academy

NSWC Crane