By Shane Klestinski, Associate Editor

The National Center for Simulation (NCS) held its annual scholarship presentation on May 1 at the Central Florida Research Park to honor graduating high school students.


The event celebrated students who have demonstrated an aptitude and inclination toward pursuing a career in modeling and simulation, Orlando’s second-largest industry after theme parks and hospitality brings approximately $7 billion to the Central Florida region annually.


The students received scholarship awards made possible through the NCS workforce development scholarship program. The National Defense Industrial Association and the Central Florida chapter of Women in Defense also contributed to the scholarship program. Officials advertised the scholarship opportunities earlier in the academic year with specific instructions on how to apply. The high schoolers submitted applications online, and the NCS scholarship committee evaluated and scored based them based on a rubric that considered students’ grades, community service, and modeling and simulation experience, among other factors.


NCS workforce development efforts focus on continuously discovering and preparing the next- generation modeling, simulation, and training (MS&T) professionals. The program seeks to get fifth graders and middle schoolers interested in MS&T (and other STEM-related fields) with early, positive experiences like those offered through Gains in the Education of Math and Science (GEMS) summer camps and DoD STARBASE Central Florida programs at NCS. Those experiences can later continue through high school programs, college internships and beyond.


Lindsey Spalding, NCS’ workforce development director, said the evening focused on encouraging the early professional. High schoolers can also receive a certification in modeling and simulation through NCS, which can be helpful in obtaining internships and other opportunities later in their educational careers.


“There is a full pipeline of workforce development from early learners through the educators that we facilitate,” Spalding said. “Getting recognized – specifically from a modeling and simulation perspective – and being welcomed into our community gives these students the opportunity to continue to grow with us. That is a pretty good rite of passage, not just getting a scholarship, but actually meeting the workforce you’re working toward.”


An important aspect of NCS and its role in workforce development involves its support for training Department of Defense personnel. Maintaining and improving these training efforts directly impacts national defense, especially in an era of great-powers competition and potential near-peer conflict.


Spalding said the modeling and simulation pipeline recognizes the importance of meeting the warfighter’s training needs to succeed and survive when deployed to hostile environments, and it addresses the anxiety that can be associated with armed conflict.


“We’ve been growing a population of people who understand and accept the warfighter and that role, and then engage and inspire them to help improve the warfighter by helping to build those training tools,” Spalding said. “We have many students who think, ‘Oh, they’re building that thing to train in, and I would love to help build that.’ That support mindset improves our national security because these students can be the ones who end up building the new training systems that warfighters use to protect our nation.”


Lee Lacy, the scholarship committee’s chair, recommended that students pursue courses in computer science and engineering to be competitive for scholarships like those presented. Lacy said that gaming could be an effective way for parents to get kids interested in MS&T.


“A lot of them have been influenced by games,” Lacy said. “Younger folks experience games as a user and then start to think about what it might be like to help develop those types of applications. That can be a powerful motivator.”


Spalding encouraged students interested in modeling and simulation to build a portfolio and pursue a passion project to help make themselves competitive for scholarship awards – not just those from NCS.


“I tell students: ‘Show us your least impressive first try [on a project],’” Spalding said. “We want to see that awful thing that you are embarrassed to show – and then show us how you have grown from there. A lot of kids are challenged by talking in interviews, but if they have a passion project and they can talk about work they have been physically doing, it removes a little of that anxiety and helps them interview better.”

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