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Carderock engineer learns his trade on racecars before contributing to Navy submarines

By Benjamin McKnight III, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | April 1, 2020

It is no secret at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division that Virginia Tech is home to one of the multiple hotbeds of young talent that the command picks from when making new hires.

David “DJ” Pohlit II added himself to the long list of Hokies to join the Carderock team just over 12 years ago when he was hired to work on the DDG-1000 Composite Deckhouse Program. Today, Pohlit is a senior engineer in the Structural Composites Branch.

Although he was born in Akron, Ohio, Pohlit’s family relocated shortly after his birth to Carroll County, Maryland. The engineering bug bit him early in childhood and the son of an accountant and a registered nurse found an interest in architecture, thanks in part to an Etch-A-Sketch he was given. A vocational technology program in the county reinforced Pohlit’s desire to work in the engineering field as he was nearing high school graduation, in turn helping him with his looming college decision.

“I visited a bunch of other schools and was accepted to them, but Virginia Tech felt more like home,” Pohlit said.

With the choice made, he began his undergraduate career in 2000 to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. He quickly realized that Virginia Tech was not like high school and that good grades would only come with hard work. Having friends from home at the university helped ease his transition and the comfort of knowing he was still within driving distance of Carroll County comforted the young Pohlit.

By his junior year, he was much more heavily involved in the school’s engineering program and joined the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team, where he was given the chance to help build an open-wheel formula-style racecar. His career ambitions had shifted to working with composite structures at this point and he chose to stay in Blacksburg for his post-graduate education, earning a master’s degree in engineering mechanics in 2007.

“I worked on a Department of Energy funded effort through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in graduate school, centered on the automotive industry,” Pohlit said. “They were looking at the usage of composites for making vehicles lighter, more fuel efficient, and so on. That was a great experience in preparing me how to do research and communicate the findings in a professional environment. All of that really helped me for the work I do at Carderock.”

In his current role, Pohlit supports the Columbia-class submarine program through the research and development of composite applications. He also serves as the Materials Task Lead for the Next Generation Thrust program in support of the SSN(X) platform, a position he took over just three months ago. Since his arrival to the command, Pohlit said he has greatly benefited from being surrounded by individuals with a breadth of different experiences to teach him how to be a better engineer and push him toward major projects.

From 2010 to 2015, he was part of a collaborative project with the United Kingdom conducting research and development on platform enhancement capabilities for what is currently the Columbia class of submarines.

“Because it was a collaborative effort with a foreign government, we got to see and learn how they do things which was fairly similar to the way we do things, but also different,” he said.

Staying true to his childhood ambitions, Pohlit dedicates a portion of his free time to woodworking. He primarily restores neglected machines and creates shop furniture for the setup in his garage, which he admitted can get cluttered at times when he completely breaks down the pieces he is working on. The level of focus and detail he puts into the hobby is not far off from his approach at work.

“Part of it is therapeutic and part of it is to learn about the machine,” he said. “You don’t know any more about a machine until you’ve torn it into bits and pieces and you try to put it all back together.”

With over a decade under his belt as a Carderock employee, Pohlit still has many things he wants to accomplish moving forward. For now, his next objective is to serve as a lead engineer for all things materials related for next generation propulsor systems. He has been in charge of smaller teams and individual engineers in the past and believes that, when his time comes, those experiences will have properly prepared him for the greater responsibility.