NEWPORT, R.I. —
Through its Fellowship and Academic Degree Training (ADTP) programs, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport provided funding for 143 employees to further their educational pursuits in fiscal year 2018.
According to Sebastian Moore, a member of NUWC’s Workforce Development Branch, the ultimate goal is to help close knowledge gaps at NUWC Newport.
“We’re trying to get folks to really leverage their educational background with the work that we’re doing,” Moore said. “Success would be having folks who have high-level degrees applying those high-level degrees and thought processes to the work that we do here, and ultimately positively affecting the warfighter as the end result.”
The fellowships and ADTP each align with the NUWC Newport’s vision of “Undersea Superiority Today and Tomorrow” and Naval Sea System Command’s (NAVSEA) campaign plan to “Expand the Advantage” by developing a workforce inspired to embrace the extraordinary careers and opportunities within the organization. These programs give employees the tools, training and resources to effectively perform their jobs, while also providing opportunities to grow professionally, advance in their careers and become the leaders of tomorrow.
“To remain competitive — indeed superior — we will need a highly capable Navy Team,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John R. Richardson said in his Navy Civilian Workforce Framework document.
“Our team is our competitive advantage and is the key to our success,” he said.
NUWC Newport’s Technical Director Ronald Vien recently announced four employees who were selected for the 2018-19 Fellowship Program: Jillian Bohnker of Bristol, Rhode Island, and Paul Proffitt of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, both of the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department; Michael Jandron of Coventry, Rhode Island, of the Undersea Warfare, Weapons, Vehicles and Defense Systems Department; and Peter Phelps of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, of the Platform and Payload Integration Department.
Each employee will participate in this one-year program and attend school on a full-time basis while receiving their salary. One-hundred and thirty-nine other employees will receive funding to support their pursuit of degrees on a part-time basis, including 20 in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Certification Program.
Bohnker and Jandron are seeking doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Brown University, while Phelps will be working on a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Rhode
Island (URI) and Proffitt a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.
“This year's pool of candidates was excellent, and the selection process was rigorous and challenging,” Vien said.
Monica Black, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, who works in NUWC Newport’s Platform and Payload Integration Department, had plenty of positive things to say about her experience with the Fellowship Program. She graduated in May with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics from the University of Rhode Island.
“I love NUWC,” said Black, who wrote her thesis on the residual strength of composite materials after exposure to blast loading. “I just can’t stress enough how much I loved being at school full time knowing that I had a job.
“The environment that the fellowship created made me really enjoy research in a way that I never really did before, to the point where I’m really considering getting my doctorate degree. I think that says a lot about the program.”
Black, who has been a NUWC employee for almost four years, previously had taken courses toward a master’s degree online at Georgia Tech and part time at URI. The Fellowship Program allowed her to focus on her research in mechanical engineering and get to the finish line, which is one of the many benefits of the program.
“When I think of my first year of research that I did part time versus my second year of research that I did at URI full time, it’s just unbelievable how much I got out of it,” Black said. “The fact that I was able to work on it full time with no distractions, but just being there in my lab, I was surrounded by doctorate students — everyone there was just these geniuses and full of ideas.
“It was just so much more productive, especially when I think back to when I was in online classes at Georgia Tech before transferring. Being in the fellowship environment just brings out the greatest level of productivity in me, and I’m sure others as well.”
While noting the flexibility of the programs, Elaine Trainor, of the Workforce Development Branch, said she can envision future employees following a path similar to Black’s, first working on a degree — potentially through the part-time Academic Degree Training Program — and utilizing the Fellowship for that last push to get a master’s or doctorate degree.
“We have the part-time program now so people can get some things done, and when they just need that final push to be done, they can do that if it’s something that is a mission requirement or the research they’re doing is of particular interest,” Trainor said. “Scientists and engineers, they really love education. That’s to our benefit and it’s to our mission’s benefit.
“This is a great way for us to keep our employees engaged, to keep them focused and to keep them here, if possible.”
On Jan. 29, Michelle Camara, head of the Workforce Development Branch, announced the that applications were being sought from those seeking to further degrees in the fields of electrical engineering; mechanical engineering; systems engineering; computer science/computer engineering; chemistry; physics; mathematics; information technology; operations research; and business.
By the Feb. 26 deadline, 80 employees had applied. Ultimately, 67 employees accepted offers for ADTP from the initial field of 80. In all, 18 different programs of study were selected with the most popular being electrical and mechanical engineering. The next most popular fields selected were cybersecurity, computer science and acoustics engineering.
The initial pool of 80 employees represented applicants from all divisions at NUWC Newport. Fifty-two of these applicants intended to pursue master’s degrees, while 23 sought doctoral degrees and five bachelor’s degrees.
“You have everything from undergraduate degrees to doctorate degrees so it’s a big win for the division,” Moore said. “It was pretty well represented from every department within the organization.”
Since the initial round of offers, 72 additional NUWC Newport employees — including those in the MIT Certification Program — have applied for and received funding toward furthering their educational pursuits.
The workforce development group knows, though, their work is only just getting started. They already are targeting ways in which the program and process can be improved in the future.
“We’re really trying to streamline the process so we can evaluate applicants more quickly, track them and be able to tell people what the status is,” Trainor said. “That’s what Sebastian Moore has been taking the lead on with Kevin Murphy, to look at that process to maybe get a workflow established so it’s transforming to make it more user-friendly.”
Meet the 2018 Fellowships
Jillian Bohnker will be seeking her doctorate in engineering from Brown, specifically researching flow control and displacement sensing for membrane links.
“Brown is kind of weird where it’s just an engineering degree, and you have smaller groups within that,” Bohnker said, “so I’m in the fluids and thermosciences group.”
Bohnker received her undergraduate degree in 2010 from Olin College of Engineering, a private school in Needham, Massachusetts, with an acceptance rate less than 9 percent, and her master’s degree from Brown University in 2014.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Bohnker resides in Bristol and has been working at NUWC Division Newport since 2010.
“It’s a great opportunity. Working part-time toward the degree has been pretty rewarding overall just because you get to kind of see a different side of what research looks like in academia,” Bohnker said. “Now, just getting toward the end, I really need to be focused full time on getting the dissertation written for next May. I don’t know how I would do that without an opportunity like this.”
Peter Phelps will have little trouble navigating his way around campus this fall when he seeks to complete his doctorate in mechanical engineering at URI. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and German from the university in Kingston in 2003, as well as his master’s in mechanical engineering from URI in 2014.
“I’ve been at NUWC going on 15 years now. I started in 2003 right out of URI and I’ve been here ever since,” Phelps said. “I started working on my advanced degree in 2009 and I’ve just been plugging away at it. Before I knew it, I was halfway through my master’s degree.
“I knew about the Fellowship Program but I said, ‘well, you can only do it once in 10 years,’ so I said, ‘if I’m going to do a doctorate I might as well save it for that since I’m already cruising along as it is.’ It’s been a long time in the making.”
Simply put, Phelps’ research will concern itself with determining where to put material on a structure so that it achieves optimal efficiency.
Phelps, who grew up in in West Kingston and resides in Wakefield, may also see a familiar face on campus this fall. The eldest of his five children, his 19-year-old daughter Elizabeth, will be a freshman at URI this fall.
“She’s going to be living on campus, so luckily she wasn’t mad that I’m going to be there full time,” Phelps said with a chuckle.
Paul Proffitt took the longest route in his academic career of the four Fellowship recipients, yet his drive is every bit on par with his peers.
“There’s just a level of competition. The bar keeps rising,” Proffitt said. “I used to think that a master’s degree was the ultimate thing in engineering, but now it just feels like you have to keep going up to a doctorate.”
Proffitt received his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering — “back then it was mostly electrical engineering and they threw in a few programming classes” — from URI in 1990. He went on to earn a master’s degree in electrical engineering from UMass-Dartmouth, where he also will attend in the fall for his doctorate.
“There were a lot factors to go back for a doctorate – competition, just the type of work that we can do, leadership jobs, positions,” Proffitt said. “There are so many opportunities that you can get with a doctorate.”
A native of East Providence, Proffitt has lived on Aquidneck Island for almost 28 years and resides in Portsmouth. He spent his first 26 years at NUWC Newport in the Undersea Warfare, Weapons, Vehicles and Defense Systems Department, and then moved to the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department in August 2016.
Michael Jandron began working at NUWC Newport in 2008 in the Undersea Warfare, Weapons, Vehicles and Defense Systems Department after graduating from URI with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and applied mathematics. He quickly realized his schooling was far from over.
“I needed to get back to school and learn some more things,” Jandron said. “I was doing a lot of highly technical work.”
Jandron went on to earn a master’s degree from Brown in 2013, and one year later he began working on his doctorate.
“I’m studying materials that control sound, and it’s really for stealth applications and underwater vehicles,” Jandron said. “It’s really trying to come up with new materials where we can control sound to make the vehicles quieter, both internally for the sensors onboard and both externally so they’re not detected by enemy ships.”
Jandron was “born and raised in Rhode Island.” He grew up in the West Warwick area and currently resides in Coventry.
NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.