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NUWC Division Newport looks to collaboration with URI’s new advanced engineering center

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs | Oct. 30, 2019

KINGSTON, R.I. —

A quick tour through the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering makes it clear how the new Kingston campus 190,000-square-foot, $150-million facility is a win for the school, state of Rhode Island and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport.

“The new engineering center is nothing short of spectacular. It is set up to foster collaboration in cross-disciplinary teams, not limited to engineering, that has potential to truly bring engineering education to a new standard that will drive innovation,” NUWC’s Chief Technology Officer Vic Ricci said. “As a main supplier of workforce to Division Newport, that bodes well for us. We need to continue our work with the URI College of Engineering, as well as our other regional universities to help us build the workforce we need into the next century.

“Standing there at the ribbon cutting, I was very proud to be a Rhode Islander and URI alum,” Ricci added. “In one word: Wow!”

Ricci, along with Division Newport Commanding Officer Capt. Michael Coughlin, Public Affairs Officer Jeff Prater, and Technology Partnership Officer Mary Sylvia, represented Division Newport on Oct. 7 at a grand opening for the new building. A few hundred people packed into the atrium of the Fascitelli Center to listen to distinguished guests and take a tour of the facility, which took about 12 years to construct from conception to opening.

Sunlight poured through the seemingly endless glass walls that line the exterior of the building as visitors wound their way through the building.

From the first floor atrium, the group traversed a spiral staircase to the fourth floor where stops included a designated area for the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, a Smart Grid Security Research Laboratory, robotics laboratories and workspaces for graduate students.

A short elevator ride to the lower level brought the group by a series of active learning classrooms, as well as a room dedicated to work with the 401 Tech Bridge, one of five new national technology bridges.

URI’s largest and most innovative academic building, each of the five floors has centers focused on specific research themes: biomedical technology; robotics; water for the world; smart cities; materials, sensors and instrumentation; clean energy; nanotechnology and cybersecurity.

“They are teaching students to work the way we do, or at least the way we need to do, in practice throughout industry,” said Ricci, who is a member of the URI College of Engineering Advisory Board. “When I think of the world-class research that was done in the old facilities, I can only imagine the new heights this state-of-the-art center could propel research.”

The impact this new facility will have on Division Newport is wide reaching. URI and Division Newport currently have five active agreements in place — two Education Partnership Agreements (EPAs), two Cooperative Research & Development Agreements (CRADAs) and one Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA).

These active agreements build on a number of recent successes on which Division Newport and URI have collaborated. Recently, Dr. Robert Hernandez received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his work developing various small and low-power architectural solutions for a Neural Machine Interface (NMI). Hernandez, who has since retired from NUWC, worked with URI on the project.

On Aug. 28, James Miller, a professor of ocean engineering at URI, was a guest panelist at Division Newport’s Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX). Miller spoke about the role academia, specifically the ocean engineering program at URI, plays in preserving knowledge of technology across generations.

“Since the end of the Cold War, fields like ocean acoustics and sonar have scraped along on bare minimum funding because the nation didn’t need them,” Miller said. “But now, 30 years later, all of sudden the Navy, its labs, and its defense contractors need that knowledge. Rhode Island has been the center of the undersea warfare ecosystem and is well positioned to quickly spring back to life.”

As Ricci noted, URI also is a strong supplier of the Division Newport workforce. He is one of 720 URI graduates working at Division Newport.  Currently, 49 Division Newport employees are attending URI part time through funding provided by the division’s Advanced Degree Training Program and two employees are at the school full time through the Fellowship Program. There also have been seven Division Newport employees who have won the URI Distinguished Achievement Award.

“One of the things that I do when I visit NUWC is I take a sample of research, and I ask people where they went to school,” U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of the keynote speakers, said during the grand opening. “’Where’d you go — URI. Where’d you go — URI.’ It’s music to my ears.

“The collaboration between URI and NUWC, and others in the defense industry, is absolutely critical to our national security. This school produces not just good engineers; it produces people who address global problems.”

Reed was one of a number of dignitaries who spoke at the Oct. 7 grand opening. URI President David Dooley; Ray Wright, dean of the URI College of Engineering; R.I. Secretary of State Stefan Pryor; U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.); U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.); R.I. Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cottam; R.I. Council on Postsecondary Education Chairman Tim DelGiudice; President and CEO of Toray Plastics (America) Inc. Michael Brandmeier; Robin Hall, a URI senior; and Michael Fascitelli, founder of MDF Capital, all spoke as well. Fascitelli’s wife, Elizabeth, did not speak but also was on the dais. The building is named for the Fascitellis, who donated $10 million for research equipment and an endowed fund.

Many members on the panel were effusive in their praise of Wright, who is largely credited with helping to make the building a reality. After the ceremony, a plaque dedicating the engineering quadrant to Wright was unveiled.

“The vision by Dean Ray Wright was to build something transformational and that they did,” Ricci said. “The unveiling of the engineering quad monument and naming the quad after him was a complete surprise.

“Just the day before, he had seen the concrete foundation and complained that it was unsightly and needed to be cleaned up for the ribbon cutting. Little did he or anyone know what President Dooley had in store. It was a most-deserved tribute to a genuine leader and visionary.”

NUWC Newport is a shore command of the U.S. Navy within the Naval Sea Systems Command, which engineers, builds and supports America’s fleet of ships and combat systems. NUWC Newport provides research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures associated with undersea warfare. 

Currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, NUWC Newport is the oldest warfare center in the country, tracing its heritage to the Naval Torpedo Station established on Goat Island in Newport Harbor in 1869.  Commanded by Captain Michael Coughlin, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, N.Y., Leesburg, Fla., and Dodge Pond, Conn.