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Home : Media : News
NEWS | March 3, 2023

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division’s Denzel Bridges Named Black Engineer of the Year

By Pat Maio, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division NSWC Port Hueneme Division

Denzel Bridges, a Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) combat systems reliability engineer, won a Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) as a Modern-Day Technology Leader for his leadership and technical and analytical skills during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bridges is “rapidly developing into a capable leader in everything he touches,” wrote Jing Li-Kole, a branch manager who nominated Bridges for the BEYA award.

The awards were presented at the 37th BEYA STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Conference Feb. 9-11 at a waterfront convention center south of Washington, D.C.

The BEYA Modern-Day Technology Leader awards are presented on behalf of US Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine, published by Career Communications Group Inc., and the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

The awards recognize primarily Black men and women who demonstrate outstanding performance in STEM-related fields and serve as inspirations for future engineers, scientists and innovators.

Engineering inspiration

Bridges, a mechanical engineer in the Combat Systems, Test and Evaluation Department (C Dept.), grew up in Riverside, California, where his father worked in security with shipping giant FedEx Corp., while his mother worked with a social services agency with Riverside County. 

“I’ve always known I wanted to study engineering since my freshman year of high school when I was inspired by my cousin,” said Bridges, who earned a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and a master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering from University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“I initially thought I wanted to study chemical engineering because I thought I wanted to pursue a career related to renewable energy,” Bridges said. “When I looked at the course requirements with four semesters of chemistry and two semesters of physics in the first two years of school, I decided to go a different direction.”

With his advanced degree in hand by July 2019, Bridges thought he’d end up with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, about 25 miles to the west of the University of Tennessee.

“From a fatigue standpoint, I definitely wanted to get out of the academic setting,” said Bridges, after helping pen more than 30 scholarly articles with colleagues on subjects ranging from advanced engineering materials and manufacturing to alloys and compounds.

The article he said he’s most proud of is titled “Wettability, Diffusion Behaviors and Modeling of Ni Nanoparticles and Nanowires in Brazing Inconel 718,” published in 2021 after he graduated with a doctorate in hand. 

“I see it eventually as a viable substitute for some structural applications, or high-temperature assemblies such as for aerospace or turbines,” said Bridges, who feels comfortable speaking about the article’s explanation for the differences between soldering and brazing, and using copper, nickel or silver nanomaterials to join materials.

The topics outlined in the paper focus on using nickel nanomaterials to join nickel superalloys and mathematically modeling their behavior.

About six months before Bridges graduated from the University of Tennessee, the engineer’s aunt with the DOE suggested that he attend the BEYA STEM Conference in Washington, D.C. That’s where Bridges, who took his aunt’s advice, met Michael Gibbons, formerly an NSWC PHD branch manager who now works for the Program Executive Office Ships’ (PEO Ships) Boats and Combatant Craft program office (PMS 300) in Washington, D.C.

Bridges passed up recruitment tables for Raytheon Technologies Corp., Boeing Co. and other military contractors. He was so impressed with Gibbons’ pitch about NSWC PHD that he packed his bags and moved back to California ahead of his fiancée, who was finishing her master’s degree in the public health field at the University of Georgia to begin work at NSWC PHD on Aug. 12, 2019. He and his fiancée were married four-and-a-half months later.

NSWC PHD involvement

Today, Bridges performs reliability analyses for various combat systems.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be nominated for this award and win, especially since it is for the same conference that I was recruited at four years ago,” Bridges said.

Bridges has also served as the acting team lead since June 2022 for the combat systems reliability engineering team. He has leveraged his academic research experience with nanomaterials and welding, soldering and brazing materials to participate in the command’s Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) program.

NISE provides funding to help NSWC PHD employees research a project idea, come up with a new engineering concept, or update their laboratory equipment.

Bridges also has helped mentor student interns for summer and fall programs with the Office of Naval Research’s 10-week summer Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, also known as NREIP.

NREIP connects the command with colleges and universities.

Bridges also frequently volunteers to facilitate command-wide organized talks that discuss a wide range of topics in a respectful and judgment-free environment. Topics he has facilitated include observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans; and physical and mental health.

“He has been able to quickly learn and adapt to many technical and organizational challenges using his effective problem-solving skills and always with a high work ethic and professional demeanor,” said Li-Kole, a department manager.

“He is very knowledgeable, he has a doctorate, yet he’s very humble,” Li-Kole added. “He is always willing to learn and put himself in an area where he may not be comfortable — like leading and guiding the summer interns. That’s not his comfort zone, but he still volunteers.”

Tyrone Taborn, the founder, publisher, chairman and CEO of Career Communications Group, which sponsors the BEYA awards, said at least half a dozen other NSWC PHD employees have received BEYAs since 2020, and that the command is on his organization’s radar as an engineer hub.

“This is a big deal,” Taborn said. “The award is a validation of his hard work. It’s not about race. It’s not because you are a male. If you get this award, you have competed against some of the top people in our nation.”