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Surface Warfare Center Materials lab brings aboard new talent, engages high-velocity learning

By J.W. Marcum, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division | Dec. 1, 2017

PORT HUENEME, Calif.—Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) Office of Technology (OOT) has brought aboard Materials Engineer, Zachary Stephens to work alongside Materials Subject Matter Expert, Tim Tenopir at the Surface Warfare Combat Systems Materials Lab (SWCSML).

Materials are part of NSWC PHD’s In-Service Engineering Agent role and responsibilities for surface combat systems survivability, maintainability and affordability. The SWCSML contains unique and highly specialized test equipment needed for collaborative research, development, testing and evaluation. 

“I see myself as Tim’s protégé,” said Stephens. “I’m here to absorb as much knowledge as I can from him and really continue on the efforts he has committed to, in establishing the materials center of excellence.”

Tenopir has over 38 years of experience working at NSWC PHD in materials, non-destructive testing, composites, corrosion, antenna repair, coatings and related engineering disciplines. He has spent the last six years promoting standardized principles in corrosion awareness and mitigation with other Warfare Centers in the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Enterprise and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Enterprise through the Materials Community of Interest.

“The major projects we are working on now are protective covers for topside equipment and the combat systems corrosion control initiative,” said Tenopir. “In the past, people didn’t realize how much materials really affected their job, so they didn’t pay much attention to it. In reality, coatings can save millions of dollars in hazardous materials avoidance and increase the longevity of topside equipment. The bottom line is, don’t wait for a materials-related failure to show you the importance of materials.”

“Tim has been talking about all of the new technology coming out that is really going to affect the field of materials in general, including nanomaterials and metamaterials,” said Stephens. “Carrying on the torch and bringing in next-generation technology to build up the materials center of excellence is my goal, especially since it is going to be so widely used in the future.”

“We’re going to have to train the fleet and the sailors and their waterfront folks for combat systems applications of materials,” said Tenopir. “We have a lot of work to do for many years to come.”

“I’ve learned that you have to be patient, said Stephens. “I’ve talked to a bunch of people and they all say, ‘It’s the government, it takes time to do things around here,’ but I’ve learned also to keep an open mind about what it is that you’ll be doing. Because as Tim said, we’re going to do materials, but we’re going to do so much more than just simple materials.”

“It’s nice having a fresh perspective to balance things out,” said Tenopir. “When I first started working here 38 years ago I could focus on mechanical engineering and stay within that one discipline, but today you have to have multi-disciplinary knowledge. We can’t just stay in one field and blindly in a narrow tunnel. It takes a lot of us working together.”

Stephens has been engaging opportunities for cross-discipline training and development at the command by enrolling in a Defense Acquisition University course offered to entry-level employees through the Naval Acquisition Development Program. 

Originally from Carson, California, Stephens attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in May 2017. Prior to his arrival at NSWC PHD he worked with a non-profit organization in Compton, California, helping kids to build a rocket that would reach 45,000 feet.

He is also a legacy employee at NSWC PHD. 

“My grandfather used to work here,” he said. “After I graduated I was letting everybody know that I was looking for a job in engineering. My grandfather said, ‘why don’t you look into Naval Sea Systems Command and the Warfare Center out here?’ and so I did.”

Seeing there was a need for a chemical engineer in the materials lab, he jumped at the opportunity. 

Stephens’ grandfather is Dr. Robert Bland, a former department head of the Missile and Launching Systems Department, which would later be restructured into Air Dominance Department.

“I sang the National Anthem when I was 10 years old at his retirement ceremony,” said Stephens.

“I really enjoy this environment,” he continued. “I do want to go back to school and get an advanced degree and eventually become an independent researcher here. I look forward to having my own projects and being given the chance to collaborate with the other Warfare Centers and industry partners.”

The SWCSML has garnered recognition and approval from the Department of Defense Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office, NAVSEA Headquarters and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research Development Test and Evaluation for pursuing initiatives in corrosion policy oversight.