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Senior design and capstone projects by college students address Navy needs

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs | May 7, 2019

NEWPORT, R.I. —

On March 27, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport hosted nine teams of college seniors from the University of Rhode Island (URI) and the University of Connecticut (UCONN) who were invited to present their senior design and capstone projects to each other and to their NUWC technical mentors. The projects address real Navy needs including launching unmanned vehicles, machine learning, 3D printing in a dynamic environment and variable buoyancy capsules.

With the goal of recruitment, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) funds the capstone projects as part of their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiative. NUWC Newport mentors are able to collaborate with the universities through internal investment support.

Dr. James LeBlanc, chief scientist in NUWC’s Platform and Payload Integration Department, while coordinating projects, recognized there were multiple NUWC-mentored senior design and capstone projects taking place at both URI and UCONN so he decided to host a project review day for students to present briefs, receive information on NUWC employment from a human resources representative and take tours of the NUWC Newport’s Launcher Facility and the Survivability Test Laboratory.

“With nine senior design projects happening between the two universities, it seemed like a great opportunity to bring them all together to present their projects, to learn from each other and to see NUWC,” LeBlanc said. “If any of these students are considering coming to work for NUWC, then they need to see it. It’s also a great opportunity for us to hear from them and provide feedback on their projects, which have real applications to the Navy.”

Michael Accorsi, senior associate dean for UCONN’s School of Engineering and professor of civil and environmental engineering, brought a contingent of students from UCONN and was eager to listen to their briefs.

“The program has brought the idea to the forefront of students’ minds that NUWC is an option for their careers,” Accorsi said. “It engages students early in their decision-making process and gives them good awareness of NUWC.”

Joining him from UCONN was Dr. Vito Moreno, director of the mechanical engineer senior design program, who said, “These are good projects. It’s not make-work. We look for real engineering problems that they can solve. And it’s a challenge for them because it’s open-ended. They also learn about the customer-supplier relationship with NUWC being the customer.”

With its close proximity to Newport, URI enjoys a collaborative relationship with the command and hosts a seminar series that features NUWC Newport engineers and scientists as guest speakers.

Dr. David Taggart, from URI’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, brought several of his students to discuss their projects.

“The objectives of the URI/UCONN Navy STEM program are to create a community of students, faculty and local Navy stakeholders and to make our engineering students aware of Navy-related career opportunities,” Taggart said. “Our program includes a variety of activities including weekly seminars, field trips and undergraduate research and design experiences. The senior design experience has proven to be a highly effective mechanism for engaging students in real-world engineering problems of interest to the Navy.”

Last year, Dr. Peter Hardro, an engineer in the Undersea Warfare (USW) Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, sponsored a senior capstone project at URI for mechanical engineering students. As a result of that project, NUWC Newport brought on one of the students as a full-time engineer. In fiscal year 2019, Hardro is sponsoring two capstone projects in collaboration with a local small business, PowerDocks, which has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with NUWC Newport. Along with NUWC Newport’s Education Partnership Agreement with URI, these agreements enable all three parties to work together.

Hardro is the also director of the 2019 Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX). One of his teams will perform in-water testing of PowerDocks’ technology at the Narragansett Bay Test Facility in May and will present their results at ANTX in August. Two students from that team will be full-time engineers at NUWC Newport by the time ANTX takes place.

“I thoroughly enjoyed all of the senior design and capstone project briefs and was absolutely impressed with the scope of the projects undertaken and significant progress that has been made in just two semesters,” Hardro said. “As a mentor, I typically struggle with defining reasonable bounds to the problem to ensure it is manageable within the timeline of the class. I tend to ask for a lot with the expectation that we may need to cut back, but time after time the students rise to the challenge. This year, one of the teams — self-named the “Buoy Boys” — was able to design and prototype a complete full-scale system. I am pleased to see that their initiative and effort has progressed to the point that we were able to include them as part of ANTX.”

Chris DelMastro, head of the Platform and Payload Integration Department, spoke to the students — some of whom were working on projects for that department — about his career path and the particular challenges of integrating unmanned systems into a manned submarine force. Technical Director Ron Vien then addressed the students and reiterated Division Newport’s mission.

“The work we do here at Division Newport matters,” Vien said. “Our mission is to provide undersea superiority. Our work protects our nation’s warfighters and has a direct impact on our national security.”

“The UConn/URI senior design day at NUWC was a tremendous success,” Accorsi said, following the event. “The day started with presentations of the nine projects, which was the first time that the students were able to see the work of all the other teams. This was very intense as each of these projects directly addresses a current Navy need, and the students were highly aware of the relevance and importance of their work. It was really beneficial to them to see the large NUWC research campus and all the unique testing facilities. This really opened their eyes to how exciting it is to work at NUWC as an engineer.”

URI’s Taggart agreed the visit was a success.

“I feel the senior design project review event was a tremendous success,” Taggart said. “NUWC engineers have served as project mentors for several of our design teams for the past academic year. Working directly with these mentors and being able to present their final results gave the students an excellent opportunity to experience firsthand the type of work being done by engineers at NUWC. We are grateful to the engineers at NUWC for both their time spent advising our students over the course of the year and hosting us for the senior design project review. We look forward to future collaborations and are hoping this will be an annual event.”

NUWC Newport technical project mentors along with Hardro, include Michael Sheahan, Alexander Desilets, Christopher Ambrosini, Peter Phelps and Gary Huntress, all from the Platform and Payload Integration Department; and Dr. William Weiss of the Undersea Warfare Electromagnetic Systems Department.

NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea System Command, is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.