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Educational Partnerships Extend NSWC PHD’s Reach for Future Workforce, Research, Testing

By Teri Carnicelli | NSWC Port Hueneme Division | March 25, 2020


NSWC PHD has long partnered with colleges and universities on student internships, grant-funded student projects and more. But it’s the Educational Partnership Agreements (EPA) that most support the command’s mission-focused capabilities and help build a future workforce.

PHD leadership just inked its latest EPA with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly). As the EPA is with the university’s materials engineering program, which trains students on technologies PHD is rapidly developing, the EPA could potentially supply the command with capable future employees as well as a way to fund more partnerships between the two entities.

Greg DeVogel, chief technology officer for PHD’s Office of Technology (OOT), welcomed Trevor Harding, Cal Poly’s department chair for the university’s materials engineering program, who recently visited the command to discuss ways each could benefit with the new partnership.

One aspect, DeVogel said, which PHD could benefit directly from was through Cal Poly’s materials engineering lab and its millions of dollars of high-tech equipment—from electron microscopy to X-ray spectroscopy to a Mini 55 Instron tensile strength tester.

“Our material science guys are going to be excited to use some of your capabilities that we don’t have here,” DeVogel said.

Research partners

Another benefit to PHD of a formal EPA is more funding becomes available to allow students to work on Navy-sponsored projects, both at their university and at the command. Grants are distributed through OOT via the Naval Education Engineering Consortium (NEEC).

“We provide about a half million dollars a year to various universities through NEEC grants to do research for the Navy,” explained Alan Jaeger, manager of PHD’s Office of Research and Technology Applications.

NEEC grants typically fund three-year research projects based at the universities, though students working on the project may travel to PHD periodically for a deeper dive.

Other, smaller grants can be used to purchase specific materials for students to work on in their college labs for senior capstone projects that tackle a Navy-identified problem, with an assigned principal investigator who can mentor that student team.

“We are very open to running senior projects through our materials engineering curriculum that involve seniors from other departments,” including computer, mechanical and electrical engineering, Harding said. “You get a great interdisciplinary project and work with other types of engineers.”

In addition, “mini grants” offered by NSWC PHD can be used to pay for student Capstone Projects and align with Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) Section 219 research projects.

“With an EPA, we can cover a variety of costs when working on projects together,” Jaeger said.

“What’s really exciting is we are working to line up our EPAs, NEEC, capstones, internships, and all these tools in a way that they all support each other and not just operate as individual programs.”

Recruiting for PHD

Nearly a third of the students at Cal Poly are engineering majors, and roughly 230 students are in the materials engineering program.

The program includes computational modeling and additive manufacturing—two things that NSWC PHD is rapidly developing for its own capabilities. The students work hands on with the equipment in the lab from day one.

An EPA offers PHD a pipeline to attract these students as future employees, as well as partner with them on senior capstone projects, funded by the command.

The EPA also allows the command to get in front of students via command-only events on campus, such as information sessions or recruitment events that would involve only Navy job opportunities. Without an EPA, the command would have to participate in larger recruitment events where NSWC PHD hiring managers are competing with companies such as Google, Microsoft Corp., Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp. Harding explained that it is key to attract students in their freshmen year because by the time they are juniors, many already have job offers waiting.

Richard Watanabe, division manager for L40 in PHD’s Littoral Strike and Warfare Department, graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. As a recruiter for the command for more than 25 years, he has gone to previous job fairs at the school, primarily searching for electronics and computer engineers.

“The skillsets we look for are pretty broad,” he told Harding at the recent meeting. “Oftentimes, we’ll ask students what they want to do, but they don’t know because they are not really from this culture and they don’t know what they can potentially do here.”

Watanabe added the command would like to hold Navy-only information sessions on campus to show students what NSWC PHD employment opportunities are available, many of which mirror industry jobs.

“Information sessions give us the chance to get more specific as to what we do and afterward, those who are graduating in the next 10 months who show interest can stay for on-site interviews with our hiring managers,” Watanabe said. “We might even do on-the-spot offers.”

For those who live locally, Watanabe said the command could arrange a site visit so interested students could see firsthand what a day in the life at the command would be like.

Harding indicated he would be interested in hosting a more materials-focused career fair in partnership with the broader Naval Sea Systems Command.

“One of the challenges that my students have as materials engineers is there’s not a box on a job application for that, and they have to explain what they do and how they can add value to a company,” Harding said.

“Conversely, what you (PHD) would have to do is let them know you exist, what you do, why it’s exciting, and why they would want to come work here.”

Currently the command has EPAs with California State University Channel Islands and University of California, Santa Barbara. PHD is also negotiating EPAs with the State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Ventura County Community College District, specifically for Oxnard, Ventura and Moorpark community colleges.