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NEWS | April 26, 2018

NSWC Philadelphia hosts co-op students from Puerto Rico while university rebuilds

By Keegan Rammel and Matt Leonard, NSWCPD Public Affairs

PHILADELPHIA -- When Tony Morales watched Hurricane Maria devastate his hometown of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, last September, he knew he had to help. Morales, a 35-year employee of NAVSEA in Philadelphia, helped launch a special co-op initiative for students affected by the Hurricane.

Morales and other Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) staff acted quickly to get students to Philadelphia and encouraged other warfare centers to also participate in the initiative. The goal was to interest future engineers in a career with NAVSEA, while also helping the students.

Morales contacted more than 500 students at the University of Puerto Rico and traveled there to interview candidates. Communicating with the students proved difficult as many were left without power for months; some still don't have power.

"[They] had to use portable lights to study," said Morales, Wastewater In-Service Engineering (ISE) branch manager. "They couldn't get onto the internet and that isn't the way to study in 2018."

Gabriella Gonzales Pascual was in Ponce, the second biggest city in Puerto Rico, where cell phone communication took over a week to become reestablished following the hurricane. 

"My chemical engineering department opened some classrooms for students who didn't have power to use as a study area," said Gonzales Pascual, a senior engineering student. 

As a result of this NSWC initiative, Gonzales Pascual is working under Morales as a co-op in Philadelphia Division's Wastewater ISE branch. She's providing technical support in the calibration of oil content monitors (OCM). This work gives her engineering experience and the opportunity to earn OCM calibration certificates, which makes her a more valuable contributor to the team.

Gonzales Pascual is grateful for the opportunity to work in her field while Puerto Rico and the university rebuild.

"It's the right thing to do," said Alonzie Scott, director, NAVSEA enterprise talent management office. "When we heard about the incident and the schools being closed we saw it as an opportunity to show kindness; and to get talent earlier."

NSWCPD is currently hosting 10 co-op students: four are mechanical engineers, four are electrical engineers, one is a computer engineer, and is one chemical engineer. The students will be here from February to July, through the summer semester. All the students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA in their program and all have at least some school left in their 172 credit hour 5-year degrees.

The co-op students at NSWCPD are working in Machinery Research, Logistics and Ship Integrity; Propulsion, Power and Auxiliary Machinery Systems; and Cybersecure Hull Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) Control Systems & Networks Departments. 

The program's goal is to be mutually beneficial for both the co-op students and for the warfare centers. The students are getting valuable experience and the warfare centers are gaining diversity and the perspective of young engineering minds.

"This must be a win-win," Morales said. 

Philadelphia has been actively recruiting students from Puerto Rico for many years and has built a strong connection to the University of Puerto Rico. One goal of the program is for the co-op students to tell other students about NAVSEA and interest them in employment opportunities here.

"We established the pathway," Morales said. "These students will go back to school and talk about us. This will be positive; they are appreciative of the opportunity we have given them." 

The co-op coordinators acted swiftly to get the students to Philadelphia and get them on-boarded as quickly as possible; a process that can take six months was accomplished in only a few weeks.  Several other warfare center divisions are planning to bring their co-op students on for the summer term.

"I am really grateful for the way the onboarding process was with us," said Jorge Vilanova-Del Valle, co-op student working in the Power Conversion and Aircraft Support Power Systems Branch. 

Although the process was rushed, the students received help coming from Puerto Rico and getting settled in. NSWCPD assisted the students with coordinating living arrangements and several engineers even personally pooled money to help the students buy furniture. All of this would have been difficult for the students to coordinate given the communication challenges the island was facing.

"My experience with NSWCPD has been really great. I am learning a lot, and I get to experience real engineering work," Vilanova-Del Valle explained. "Half of my job involves a lot of technical and hands on work, and the other half involves a lot of paperwork and resource management." 

The co-op students have an ally in Morales, who has made himself available as a mentor. 

Morales has been instrumental in the recruitment of Puerto Ricans since he started as one of the first Hispanic engineers hired by NAVSSES in 1982. Morales feels initiatives like this are important to create a more diverse workforce at NSWCPD.

"I am trying to help my fellow Puerto Ricans," Morales said. "I want people to be a part of something that I'm very proud of."

NSWCPD provides the Navy's primary technical expertise for naval machinery research and development and in-service engineering, as well as machinery cybersecurity and lifecycle engineering.