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NEWS | March 25, 2022

Women’s History Month Employee Spotlight: NSWC Philadelphia Honors Mechanical Engineer Dr. Felicia Powell

By Gary Ell

Dr. Felicia Powell serves as a mechanical engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD), supporting research and development for Advanced Machinery Systems Integration. However, currently she is on detail as a program analyst with the Naval Sea Systems Command Program Executive Office (PEO) Unmanned and Small Combatants (USC), Planned Maintenance System (PMS) 406 Unmanned Maritime Systems, supporting their Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) programs.

Powell started her Navy civilian service career in June 2015 with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme Division (NSWCPHD) in the Naval Acquisition Development Program (NADP). The two-year NADP program included rotations with Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) at NSWCPHD, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Tactical Underwater Network Architecture (TUNA) project at Ocean Expeditionary Naval Facilities Command, and Integrated War Systems 1.0 in Washington D.C. For three years, she supported Aegis Weapons System (AWS) Combat Ship Systems Qualification Trials (CSSQT) as the Data Collection Coordinator (DCC) ISEA ship rider.

In June 2018 Powell transferred to NSWCPD to contribute to the research and development of Hull, Mechanical & Electrical (HM&E) systems. As a researcher, she supports establishing an unmanned systems fleet with focus on UUV and Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV), as well as the development of Navy Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) tools for Navy propulsion systems.

“As one build’s their life professionally and personally there are so many expectations and hurdles that we have to navigate. Numerous times throughout my life, I have been bogged down by all of the pressure that sometimes causes doubt or inaction. As I started championing those moments, I learned two key truths: Who I am today is all I need to succeed tomorrow; and the anxiety of taking the leap is never greater than the regret of not taking the leap,” Powell said.

Powell has a Doctorate in Ocean Engineering (2012) and a Master’s in Ocean Engineering (2009) from Florida Atlantic University. Her ocean engineering research portfolio encompassed developing nanocomposites for Office of Naval Research carbon fiber vessels, “real-time” system identification for Navy Seabasing 21 “skin-to-skin” vessel transfer, and designing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). She is also an alumni of Prairie View A&M University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

She also promotes the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) vision of a collaborative enterprise, leading and supporting collateral initiatives including Many Voices, prioritizing inclusiveness in the workforce; High Velocity Learning, a process improvement workforce strategy; and Lean In Circles, empowering women in the workplace. In 2019 she was selected for Cadre VI of the NAVSEA Journey Level Leadership program in recognition of her prioritizing leading people and leading change. The program encompassed a comprehensive leadership training program, flash mentoring sessions with NAVSEA leadership, and completion of a capstone project. Powell was the team lead of the cybersecurity project, “NAVSEA Cyber Training Program” focused on developing two NAVSEA cybersecurity training programs for Navy control systems and the NAVSEA workforce.

When asked about equality, she said, “Equality, empowerment and mentoring are all rooted to ‘uplifting’, which requires taking the time to support each other. When we support each other through mentoring, we empower and continue to carve equality into reality.”

If Powell could have 15 minutes to chat with any historical figure, it would be with her paternal great-great grandmother Mommie Eleanor and maternal grandmother Maka.

“My addition to the family brought a precocious, witty, and adventurous nature that was unfamiliar to my family. When everyone herded right, I was independently zagging left as I heard my parents comment, ‘Where does she get this from?’ Both women were fiercely intelligent and did not compromise that attribute in a male-slated society,” Powell said.

“Contrary to today, their brilliance was heralded in the way they raised their children and supported their husbands, not just in excelling in their jobs or stacking degrees. Maka didn’t bake cookies; she wrote papers for college students to earn extra income for her family. Mommie Eleanor raised a family and traveled aboard to Europe in the early 1900’s. I would love 15 minutes to learn about their seeds of brilliance sprouting in my DNA, she said”

When asked about singling out any one individual who motivated her to learn and succeed, Powell pointed out her 15-minute factor, saying “Yes, I am able to single out individual(s), but in reality it is the 15 minutes that motivated me to learn and succeed. Throughout my life, there have been people from the pinnacle of professional status to a taxi driver in the British Virgin Islands who gave 15 minutes or more of their life to impact mine. In those fifteen minutes they brought clarity at a crossroads and restored motivation in the face of a hurdle.”

“I am where I am today because of those 15-minute individuals. Never underestimate the value of sharing 15 minutes of your life with someone,” she said, adding, “The most important life lesson that I learned is that the path to success is not perfection, but to fail frequently and fantastically. As a grade school student with a ‘golden halo’ squeezed onto my head, I was always spoken of in terms of my strengths and successes. No one ever gave me an award for failing. The students closest to perfection.”

When asked about what advice she would give to the generation that will be born tomorrow, she said, “As a professional adding my skills and talents to a workforce comprised of four generations, the experience has been surreal navigating the individuality of each respective generation. Despite how distinct the generations are, we are all adding footprints to the same path.”

“We would not be where we are today without every single step. To the generation born tomorrow remember that we are all connected as family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and that should not be lost in the race of technology, capitalism and political influence,” Powell said