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“Loud booms” inspire intern’s dream career path

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications | July 30, 2018

Growing up in King George, Va., near Naval Support Facility, Dahlgren, Sarah Wessel remembers the sound of windows rattling while she did her homework. The cause was the reverberating cadence of “booms” heard during weapons testing on base. Many would consider it a major noise distraction, but for Wessel, it was so much more.

“These loud booms became regular, but with each one a sense of wonder stirred within me,” she recalled.

This fueled Wessel’s desire to obtain an internship at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) when she was in high school. Even without an offer in hand, she was not deterred. Wessel participated as a student and junior mentor in two of NSWCDD’s STEM summer camps.

Wessel joined a small team of students who learned to design, build, program and race a PVC Pipe boat. “We were given PVC Pipe, motors, batteries, wires, duct tape and zip ties,” explained Wessel. The students programmed the boat to complete the course at the Dahlgren boat ramp, and competed against other teams' boats.

 “What is most memorable about the experience was how the Dahlgren engineers challenged us, believed in our potential, and encouraged us to overcome challenges,” said Wessel. “The experience at Dahlgren’s STEM camp was invaluable and inspirational thanks to the mentors.”

 After this experience, Wessel knew she wanted a future with Dahlgren.

 Wessel headed to the University of Mary Washington to pursue a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mathematics (minor in Data Science). She will graduate in Spring 2019.

In 2016, as she continued working toward her goal, Wessel earned a placement in the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, Field Testing Branch in Southern California. There she witnessed the impact of more than 30 Dahlgren-developed technologies on real-world combat simulations. She collected data to draw conclusions about technology benefits and required improvements. She also spent time at Camp Pendleton and Quantico.

 And then it happened.

 After applying to Dahlgren five times, Wessel was accepted into an NREIP role in 2017 with the Gun and Electric Systems (E) Department, where she converted Simulink code into optimized C++ code of an ARL pointing controller. This year, Wessel earned a position with the STEM Student Employment Program, applying her experience from the previous summer to convert the control system of ODIN - a dazzler (laser).

These opportunities have been a perfect fit for Wessel considering her prior interactions with the Marine Corps and Dahlgren technologies.

“When I was in Camp Pendleton, the significant impact of Dahlgren’s technologies on the Marine Corps was prominent as Marines integrated them into combat situations,” explained Wessel.

“The strengths and weaknesses of Dahlgren’s technologies were exposed through observation in the field, as well as the immediate and powerful potential of these technologies to save lives,” she added. “When I completed the internship, I was driven to be involved in the design, production, or optimization stage of effective life–saving technologies at Dahlgren.”

Wessel is now more inspired than ever to serve her country and the warfighter. “When I took an oath to support and bear allegiance to our Constitution, I experienced a deep sense of honor to commit to the mission of our Navy,” she explained. “The protection of our warfighters, who protect our great nation, is at the forefront of our efforts. There is no weakness in our mission, nor division of our intentions.”

Wessel looks forward to a bright future supporting the warfighter at Dahlgren, and hopes to achieve a leadership role eventually.