In a world where technology is becoming increasingly complex, it is also increasingly important that the leaders of tomorrow are equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, collect and evaluate data and make sense of that information. To remain a global leader in innovation, the Department of Defense (DoD) has begun a variety of programs to highlight STEM career fields to the nation's youth.

One program in the DoD that is contributing to this effort is the Navy City Outreach (NCO) program.

Tasked with building relationships and networks across the country to share a positive and informed message regarding America's Navy, the NCO program encourages America's youth to pursue excellence in education, especially in STEM.

"The U.S. has fallen from 3rd to 17th in the world in the number of college graduates in engineering programs," said Lt. Jacqueline Perez, NCO officer for NCO Los Angeles. "In the U.S., only five percent of science degrees are awarded in engineering compared with 50 percent in China. By offering a broad range of STEM education and outreach programs, the Navy seeks to address the national crisis of decreasing college enrollments and careers in science and engineering."

Sharing the workload of promoting these events, NCO is broken up into five districts. Each NCO team is home-based in a particular city but they also travel throughout their area of responsibility for outreach events. Though primarily stationed in Los Angeles, Perez covers events that span to San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Denver as well.

With at least 10 major events happening within every region each year to include SeaPerch regional competitions, Fleet Weeks, and STEM fairs, NCO could cover more than 60 major events a year not including the smaller events that they participate in within schools and communities.

"The mission of city outreach connects us with everyone from elementary students to community leaders," said Perez. "We host regional competitions around the nation where middle and high school students compete in underwater robotics challenges and judged oral presentations for a shot at attending nationals. Around the country, our city outreach officers spread awareness of Navy and STEM opportunities in schools, at Fleet Weeks and by creating lasting partnerships within their communities with educators and community leaders."

With the goal of promoting STEM, Perez says that the people the Navy is trying to reach may be broader than one might think.

"Anyone in the education world or a group that champions STEM awareness in their community can benefit from connecting with us," said Perez. "We are an organic program and can work with you to figure out the best way to work together to enhance STEM awareness in schools and the community."

While one of the objectives of the NCO program is to stimulate interest in STEM, they also have a dual responsibility to raise positive awareness of Navy programs.

"There is a very narrow perception in the civilian world in both children and adults alike of what it means to serve in the military," said Perez. "By reaching out to these communities and telling our stories, we can change that perception. We are not only opening people's eyes to the opportunities that are available through military service but also helping to normalize what it means to serve."

As a true ambassador for the NCO program, Lt. Perez fully embraces her job of interacting with the communities that she serves.

"I spent a week at Conway Elementary School in Escondido, Calif., working with 1st through 5th graders in the classroom and really got to know some of the students," said Perez. "Most of them had never met anyone in the Navy before and they lit up when they got to play Battleship with a Navy officer during recess in the library. I visited classrooms and spoke to students about water cycles, watersheds, community helpers, and led a straw rocket design project."

Luckily for Perez, the very nature of her job is what she enjoys best about her current position as an NCO officer.

"The best part of the job is working with students and seeing how excited they get learning STEM principles," said Perez. "We aim to make STEM fun and accessible to everyone. If we succeed in getting one student passionate about pursuing a career in STEM and make them aware of ways to achieve their goals, we've done our job."

Feeling that there is no such thing as too much outreach, Perez has a message for anyone who wants to get involved with the NCO program.

"Reach out to us," said Perez. "Whether you'd like to volunteer or partner with our team for an upcoming STEM event, we would love to hear from you! We might not have every career background covered but we have connections with other DoD outreach groups so if you're more interested in having a doctor or pilot versus a nuclear engineer for a career exploration day, for example, we can make those connections."

For more information on how you can get involved with Navy City Outreach please visit,

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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)