February 13, 2018
CRANE, Ind. – When Brandon Ellis, 26, started working at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) as an electrical engineer in November of 2016, he was immediately struck by Crane’s diverse, innovative and family-like culture.
But Ellis didn’t realize he wanted to plant roots and remain at NSWC Crane for the long term until he started coaching basketball at nearby Loogootee High School. Coaching allowed Ellis to give back to – and feel part of – a community he has grown to love.
“It’s been life-altering,” Ellis said. “Through coaching and community involvement, I’ve found more enjoyment in working at Crane, and I’ve learned more about myself.”
Ellis grew up in Loxley, Alabama, a small town of just more than 1,500 that sits just 25 minutes east of Mobile, 45 minutes west of the Florida state line, and 45 minutes north of Gulf Shores and the United States’ southern coast.
Ellis was raised by his mother and grandmother. They taught him right from wrong at an early age and always encouraged him to demand more of himself.
Ellis never really had a father figure in his life – until he got to high school. That’s when Ellis and his high school basketball coach – Marshall Davis – began having long talks about the challenges human beings face every day, and about the dangers associated with growing comfortable and doing only what comes easily.
“He taught me a lot about life in general,” Ellis said of Davis. “The things we went through in basketball throughout the season, he just related those things to life. The keys to success in basketball are the same as the keys to success in life.
“Those talks always meant a lot to me because I really wanted to be one of the first from my family to go to college, graduate, and get a good job. To get there, I knew I needed to develop the self-discipline and dedication that coach Davis always talked about. I needed to learn to be really honest with myself.”
Chasing a Basketball Scholarship
Ellis worked hard in the classroom and on the basketball court, and he ended up earning an academic scholarship from Alabama A&M, where he also was a member of the basketball team. Ellis thought he had done a good job preparing himself for the next step, but he admits now that college wasn’t a natural transition for him at first.
“I was struggling early in college because I wasn’t playing,” Ellis said. “I thought I should have been playing. I thought I was the most deserving of an athletic scholarship, and I didn’t have one.”
Ellis called home to talk to his mom, some of his close friends, and coach Davis. They all told him the same thing.
“They just told me to keep battling it out. They reminded me that nothing comes easy,” Ellis said.
As it turns out, that was just the extra push Ellis needed. He learned to be patient and have faith that he would get the things he wanted if he continued to push himself to improve every day.
“I really started to mature and grow because I had to find an identity – I had to find myself,” Ellis said. “At first, I was a follower, but I decided I wanted to stay true to myself – not my best friends, and not my teammates.”
From NASA to Crane
Ellis’ work paid off, eventually earning him the athletic scholarship he’d always coveted as well as a degree in Electrical Engineering that he would soon put to good use.
In 2014, Ellis began an internship at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama while finishing his final few classes at Alabama A&M. Shortly after his graduation, Ellis was hired by NASA full-time as a Timeline Change Officer responsible for managing and scheduling days for astronauts living on the International Space Station.
“Everyone had their own responsibilities and duties to make sure the astronauts on the space station were getting the best information in a timely fashion,” Ellis said. “The coolest thing was just watching the astronauts on the screens – watching them float around, watching them eat, drink, and do their experiments. That was a really unique opportunity.”
Ellis enjoyed his job at NASA, but after several years in Huntsville, he began looking for a change of scenery and a new challenge to conquer. Jeremy Crutcher, one of Ellis’ former Alabama A&M teammates, had been working at NSWC Crane since graduation after finding a job posting on LinkedIn. Crutcher contacted Ellis to let him know Crane was looking to hire more engineers, so Ellis filled out an application.
A few months later, NSWC Crane offered Ellis a job as an electrical engineer, an offer he quickly accepted.
“When I came up here and saw the environment and the community, it was something I knew I could get used to because I’m from a small town. It’s basically the same as where I was coming from,” Ellis said. “It’s very much a family-like culture. I can talk to my co-workers about more than just work, but the work is very important, and everyone takes it seriously. People here truly love what they do, and I feed off that. I enjoy coming to work because I know what we’re doing is very important.”
Ellis currently works in the Business Operations and Strategy Branch within the Flight Systems Division at NSWC Crane, where he evaluates projects supporting high reliability microelectronics parts.
“The work is complex and can be difficult to tackle, but I want to master it,” Ellis said. “I want to perfect my craft so I keep pushing myself every day. Just like I had to learn how to be patient with basketball and waiting to get an athletic scholarship, I had to learn to be patient at Crane, too.”
Ellis’ drive to keep improving certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed during his 15 months at NSWC Crane.
“Brandon exemplifies what we in Flight Systems Division are looking for in our workforce,” said Shana Goodman, NSWC Crane’s Chief Engineer for Component Engineering. “He is energetic about the work we do, eager to learn, and always ready to take on the next challenge. Brandon is already proving to be a great strength to our team and paving a path to become a critical asset within our organization.”
In addition to his work at NSWC Crane, Ellis is continuing his education with the MIT Systems Engineering certificate program. He is also an assistant coach at Loogootee, a position that allows him to give back to kids in the same position he was in not too long ago.
“Through coaching, I really found my purpose,” Ellis said. “I know what I did wrong when I was in high school. I know what I did right. I know what I could have done better. Every day when I wake up, I use this as a tool to help the kids I coach be better than I was because they look up to me as a brother.
“When I see those kids smile when they get a win, or they do a move in the game that I had helped them with in practice – there’s nothing better than that. I always see it in them, but they don’t always see it in themselves. When they see it in themselves because I helped them see it, that’s all I need. Coaching really changed the course of my life.”
NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with focus areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. NSWC Crane is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today’s warfighter.