An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : Media : News : Article View
NEWS | July 27, 2023

Four NUWC Division Newport employees share their career inspiration during speaker series presentation

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

During the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport’s July 12 presentation of the storytelling series “The Knot: Stories from the Workforce,” four employees shared what influenced them at a young age to pursue their career path.

With the theme “Born to Do This” as the premise, Dr. Lauren Freeman, a senior oceanographer in Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department; Activity Chief Information Officer (ACIO) Steve Masterson, head of the Corporate Operations Department’s Information Technology Division; and Sensors and Sonar Systems Department employees, Chris Carr, a technical project manager, and Dr. Christin Murphy, head of the Signal Processing Algorithm Development Branch, revealed their original sources of inspiration.

‘The ocean has always been my favorite place

Dr. Lauren Freeman, a resident of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, has been fascinated by the ocean since she was very young. Growing up in Southern Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay, much of her childhood was spent at the beach, she said.

“That’s when I fell in love with the ocean,” Freeman said. “I explored the sandy shorelines every day. I watched how the water moved the sand and how the barrier islands were being reshaped. I loved how the fish would align into a current and try to make different pathways through the sand and mud so the water would flow certain ways.”

Freeman excelled at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she graduated as valedictorian. After applying to a dozen colleges, she accepted a scholarship from the University of Miami to study marine biology.

“Having never traveled outside of Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia, it was mind-blowing to be in a big city and see palm trees everywhere,” Freeman said. “And unlike the Chesapeake Bay, the water was clear. You could actually see what was under the surface.”

At the University of Miami, Freeman met people who were just as excited to learn about the ocean as she was. In her junior year, she studied in New Zealand and immediately joined the scuba diving club, which became her favorite hobby in Miami. That’s how she met her future husband, Simon Freeman.

“He was the most passionate person I ever met about the ocean,” Freeman recalled. “We would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning talking about sea slugs and fish behavior and how you catch different kinds of fish if you’re on a certain side of an eddy.”

Throughout her senior year in Miami, Lauren remained in touch with Simon, despite living on opposite sides of the globe. When it was time to decide where to pursue her doctorate degree, Lauren received offers from prestigious colleges. Meanwhile, she wished to reunite with Simon, who also aspired to earn a doctorate. When one of the schools, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, agreed to accept Simon as well, the decision became an easy one.

During their studies, the couple spent a month on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel doing scientific diving and data collection, followed by shore-based research on the main Hawaiian Islands. That data allowed Lauren to publish some of her first peer-reviewed research papers on coral reef soundscapes.

“While I was doing my post-doctorate research, I realized that there were some cool features in the sound that told you whether or not the coral was healthy,” Freeman said.

After their studies, the couple accepted positions at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and a few years later, the Freemans looked for opportunities elsewhere. They considered a return to San Diego, but ultimately decided to work at Division Newport.

Shortly after starting her job, Lauren wrote an 80-page proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to study how marine biology can be used to detect unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

Within six months of being hired, funding for the five-year Passive Acoustic Detection through Reef Ecological Soundscapes project was approved and her research was underway.

“We do a lot of passive sensing and ambient biological soundscapes,” Freeman said. “The key is understanding how the biology responds to UUVs and how we can use that data to track UUVs.”

Freeman now leads a soundscape team for Taskforce Ocean, which is funded by the Office of Naval Research.

“The 10-year-old Lauren would be pleasantly surprised to know where her curiosity has led her,” Freeman said. “It’s exciting to be on the edge of discovery of what’s happening in the ocean, which has always been my favorite place to be.”

‘The medium changed. And we had to change with it’

When Steve Masterson, a resident of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, first was approached to speak at “The Knot” under the “Born to Do This” theme, he wasn’t quite sure his story fit the bill. Raised in Richmond, Rhode Island, he originally wanted to be an architect or go into graphic design.

“Being a CIO (chief information officer), being a computer engineer, they just weren’t mainstream professions,” he said. “They were professions, they just weren’t mainstream.”

A child of the 1980s, Masterson fell squarely between two generations — Generation X and the Millennials — and this mini-generation, those born between 1977 and 1983, came with its own moniker coined by author Sarah Stankorb in 2014: Xennials.

“We’re described as having an analog childhood and a digital adulthood, and we had to transition that at arguably the worst time of our lives,” Masterson said. “We’re already transitioning a lot of stuff as teenagers. We grew up with rotary phones and we had cellphones in high school and college.”

Video games were a big part of Masterson’s childhood, and as the computer age ramped up in the early 1990s, his interest was piqued. He created web pages and web content, did some coding and admittedly downloaded video games illegally to his stepfather’s expensive PC.

“It was for education, so it was really OK,” Masterson joked. “But I had to learn how to cover my tracks.”

When it came time to go to college, Masterson, a member of a family with humble means, knew he was a “state school kid” and chose University of Rhode Island, where he initially majored in civil engineering. That educational goal lasted all the way until orientation, when it “poured buckets” over the course of those few days in the summer of 1998.

At that orientation, an instructor explained to the incoming students the benefits of being a civil engineer, including field work and facing the elements. For Masterson, those comments really hit home, though not in a good way.

“I know for a fact I don’t like that, because I’m experiencing that right now. That’s not for me,” Masterson said. “I immediately went to the Bursar’s Office and changed my major.”

After speaking with a friend, he settled on computer engineering.

“A very well-thought decision to change my major during orientation, but it worked out,” joked Masterson, who celebrated 21 years at Division Newport in June.

His career started in the Combat Systems Department before a brief stint as a deputy department head in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department. In 2021, he became the head of Information Technology Division and the ACIO for the command.

Masterson served as the project manager responsible for the development and launch of Division Newport’s Rapid Innovation Center. “We architected it, and we built it,” he said of the space that opened in 2014.

“I wanted to be an architect and a different medium emerged, and that’s my story, that’s the Xennial’s story. The medium changed. And we had to change with it.”

‘You know what? I want to work for the Department of Defense’

Chris Carr, a resident of Newport, Rhode Island, grew up in a small Southern California desert town nestled between two U.S. Air Force bases, and both of his parents served in that branch of the military. His mother was an air traffic controller, his father a member of the special weapons recovery team.

“I was born living the military life,” Carr said.

The porch of his boyhood home provided a front-row seat to view the testing of aircraft or missile defense systems. While that provided a level of entertainment, there wasn’t much else to do in the community of Acton, which then had a population of roughly 5,000 people. So Carr spent much of his youth playing video games (and still does).

By the time he finished high school and began to chart a career path, he wanted to bring together his two passions — video games and the military.

“I’m going to go to school and I want to make MILSIM (military simulation) video games for the U.S. military,” Carr said.

He attended a community college and knocked out a number of his core classes, though when he reached his first coding course, Carr ran into trouble, struggling to figure out how to get a certain program to work. A friend arrived to help just before the assignment was due and, after examining it for just five minutes, solved the issue. That’s when Carr knew computer programming wasn’t in his future.

He changed his major to mechanical engineering and was accepted to 11 schools. To choose, he created an NCAA Tournament-style bracket and flipped a coin, eliminating one school at a time.

“I eventually landed on Cal State Northridge,” he said.

Luck must have been on Carr’s side, because he was presented a career-defining opportunity. He was part of a team that designed from the ground up a working unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Carnard-style aircraft could identify targets on the ground and communicate that information back to a ground station, allowing it to be actionable intelligence for the U.S. military.

The Cal State Northridge students took their aerial project to a competition at a Navy air base to see how it stacked up against UAVs from other schools. 

“It was really cool, and that was one of the points where I was like, ‘You know what? I want to work for the Department of Defense,’” Carr said. 

That didn’t happen initially as Carr’s first job out of college was performing engineering tasks for a recreation vehicle company. But he was persistent, sending out 400 resumes over the course of six months, and one of those landed in the hands of Al Armstrong, head of Division Newport’s Surface and Aviation Systems Engineering Branch.

Carr was offered a job and made the move from Southern California to Southern New England. One of his first big assignments was performing human system integration work for the Littoral Combat Ship Anti-Submarine Warfare Package in 2014.

He showed the audience a picture of himself sitting in a kiddie pool on the deck of the USS Freedom (LCS-1) smoking a cigar.

“That was the moment I decided this job is pretty cool,” Carr said. “I think I’m going to stick around.”

‘For a little girl with a plastic bucket, it was a treasure trove’

Dr. Christin Murphy, a resident of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, doesn’t remember how old she was when she fell in love with the ocean, but she remembers where it happened — on a small, rocky, seaweed-covered beach on the edge of Long Island Sound, near where she grew up in East Northport, New York.

“For a little girl with a plastic bucket, it was a treasure trove,” Murphy said. “I wanted to discover every organism along the shore. I remember flipping over rocks to find hermit crabs, picking up periwinkle snails and poking their little trap doors, plucking the thistle threads on mussels and picking up barnacles that would close themselves up tight until you put them in a bucket of water and could coax them out.”

Murphy recognized patterns on the beach. She learned that the organisms that seal themselves up were found further from the water and more mobile animals appeared close to the water. She also discovered egg cases, bones, and shell fragments of animals that lived in deeper waters. Those animals remained out of reach until Murphy earned her diving certification at age 14.

On a high school trip to Costa Rica, Murphy conducted field research for the first time. Since it wasn’t part of the class she was taking, she begged her teachers to allow her to count fish on a coral reef.

“I had no idea how to do a reef survey, but I thought if I read enough books I would figure it out,” Murphy said.

Murphy knew she wanted to be a marine biologist since she was 5 years old, so her main consideration when choosing a college was getting to conduct hands-on field research.

“New College of Florida was the perfect place for me,” Murphy said. “Their undergraduate educational philosophy was built upon independent research.”

The best advice Murphy received in college was from her undergraduate advisor, whom she assisted on a study of manatees.

“I was so enamored with his work that I told him that I wanted to do what he does,” Murphy said.

“He told me I need to find my own line of questioning and I need to find a field that is expanding, not closing.”

In writing her thesis on spatial navigation in coral reef fish, Murphy referenced a laboratory in Spain that was known for its research on fish brains. After receiving a Fulbright Scholarship, she joined the Laboratory of Psychobiology at the University of Seville for a year. Murphy learned a lot about neuroscience, but she also learned that she didn’t want to dissect brains for the rest of her life.

Murphy returned to her roots. She became a teacher on a schooner for the Ocean Classroom Foundation for two years, traveling back and forth from Maine to the Caribbean two to four months at a time. Integrating the environment into her lessons, she taught high school students how to think like a marine biologist.

While she felt at home on the ocean, Murphy decided to dive back into research by attending graduate school at the University of South Florida. A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship enabled Murphy to conduct doctoral research with a seal named Sprouts at the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory in Santa Cruz, California.

Having accomplished everything she envisioned when she was 5 years old, Murphy wasn’t sure what to do next, until she was presenting her research at a conference in New Zealand and met Division Newport biologist and oceanographer Dr. Joy Lapseritis, a scientist and head of the Ranges, Engineering and Analysis Department's Undersea Modeling Branch.

When Murphy realized that Lapseritis was working on similar research, she wrote a proposal to conduct post-doctoral research at Division Newport. A decade later, Murphy heads up the Bio-Inspired Research and Development Lab at Division Newport, where she leads a multi-disciplinary team of researchers.

“The point of wanting to become a marine biologist when you’re a kid isn’t to become one, it’s the cultivation of ‘awe,’” Murphy said. “It’s being excited about something.”

A video from the event can be viewed here:

NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869. Commanded by Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.

Join our team! NUWC Division Newport, one of the 20 largest employers in Rhode Island, employs a diverse, highly trained, educated, and skilled workforce. We are continuously looking for engineers, scientists, and other STEM professionals, as well as talented business, finance, logistics and other support experts who wish to be at the forefront of undersea research and development. Please connect with NUWC Division Newport Recruiting at this site- and follow us on LinkedIn @NUWC-Newport and on Facebook @NUWCNewport.