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NEWS | March 13, 2023

Carderock Employees Attend 2023 Manufacturing Expo and Exhibition at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

By Todd Hurley, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division employees Dr. Cynthia Waters, Senior Scientific Technical Manager and Principal for Advanced Manufacturing and Materials, and Dr. Abel Vargas, a mechanical engineer in the Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch attended the 2023 Manufacturing Expo and Exhibition at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Edinburg on Feb. 16-17.

The event is part of the Department of Defense (DoD) Consortium for Innovative Driven Research/Education Ecosystem for Advanced Manufacturing for the Defense (I-DREAM4D), which was created by the DoD to support the talent needs for military and defense manufacturing operations. The consortium is composed of five higher education institutions, including UTRGV, national research centers, national laboratories, defense manufacturers, local high school districts and community colleges.

The two-day National Manufacturing Expo was attended by high school and middle school children, and was comprised of a symposia featuring guest speakers such as Waters and Heidi Shyu, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, who gave an inspirational speech on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) opportunities, lab tours consisting of STEM information sessions and a college student career fair.

“This is the second year we have participated in the event, and I plan on making this an annual event for Carderock going forward,” Waters said. “A few years ago, I was tasked by the Office of Naval Research to coordinate a manufacturing engineering education program, which then got connected with I-DREAM4D. They host these events to introduce students to engineering and manufacturing.”

Waters attended the event as a guest speaker on day one, and then spoke to a small class of roughly 30 students on day two, discussing what careers look like at Carderock and the work that Carderock does.

“Attending this event is the most fun I have had all year — the energy with the students is very high,” Waters said.

Prior to Waters’ speech, Shyu spoke and took questions from the high-school students that were tough, real-life questions about work-life balance, bias and identity, which caused Waters to modify her message.

“I was a guest speaker on day one,” Waters said. “When I walked out on stage, I asked students, ‘What does an engineer look like?’ and then I paused. ‘It looks like me. It looks like you. Every single one of you has the ability to be an engineer.’”

She felt it was important to share part of her real journey. She told the students about herself, how she grew up on a farm, went to college and got two engineering degrees — bachelor’s and master’s degree, met and fell in love, got married and started her career.

“And then, 18-months later, I had my first set of twins,” she said. “Then, 18-months after that, I had my second set of twins. I continued working part-time as a mother of four. When my youngest twins were middle school age, I went back to school to get my doctorate degree. It was hard, but we are all capable of doing hard things.”

Demographically, the ethnic population in Edinburg is nearly 88 percent Hispanic. The event consisted of nearly 800 high school students on day one, and about 500 middle school students on day two.

“One of the factors we know for sure that motivates students to study engineering or manufacturing is that they can see themselves in that profession, that they have role models in those positions that look like them,” Waters said.

Vargas expounded on that idea.

“Many of these students are looking for an opportunity and someone to believe in,” he said. “They need mentors that look like them and have experienced the same struggles that they are encountering. The Hispanic culture prides itself with a strong work ethic, and this attribute enables them to work hard to achieve their goals.”

During the event, Vargas had a booth and acted as a recruiter for Carderock and collected resumes. He spoke with several mechanical engineering students, which he recommended for on-site interviews.

“You could feel the energy in the auditorium, and as I looked into the audience, I could see the next generation of engineers and scientists,” Vargas said.