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NSWC PHD Welcomes ‘Virtual’ Interns During Global Pandemic

By Teri Carnicelli | NSWC Port Hueneme Division | Aug. 13, 2020


Summertime typically sees dozens of undergraduate and graduate students coming to Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) for internships that not only benefit the command but also the larger Department of Navy.

Among those summer offerings is the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP) hosted by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which encourages participating students to pursue science and engineering careers by placing them in a Navy laboratory with hands-on experience and direct mentorship.

Due to the pandemic, ONR briefly placed the highly regarded program on pause while it sought a safe environment for students to learn.  

Within a short time, ONR suggested a work-around to place nearly hundreds of students in educational opportunities, including 35 who were initially slotted for summer internships at NSWC PHD.

“In May, ONR asked if the warfare centers could do a virtual intern program with a set of constraints including no Common Access Cards, no NMCI laptops, and little to no base access,” explained Ramon Flores, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program coordinator at the command. “PHD had four NREIP awardees who were a good fit. We offered virtual internships to the four and they all accepted.”

Another four of the NREIP awardees on Flores’ list graduated from college this spring, making them eligible for employment at the command.

“I worked with senior leadership to make full-time offers to these four,” which also were accepted, Flores said.

Of the remaining 27 NREIP awardees, 18 were picked up under the command’s Student Summer Employment Program (SSEP)—which also went “virtual” this year as a result of the pandemic.

The two programs differ in that ONR NREIP students are contractors while SSEP participants are civil servants.

SSEP interns numbered 59 this year before adding the 18 NREIP interns. The majority are teleworking, just like most of PHD’s personnel.

Teleworking interns are generally assigned fact-finding and research projects that require access to publically available information, explained Steven Cosgrove, administrative and technical specialist in the command’s Recruitment and Community Outreach Program.

“Generally speaking, all of our interns are working virtually in line with command guidance on making effective use of telework options,” said Innovation Team Lead Matt Cole. “That said, a number of our interns live within commuting distance of NSWC PHD, so presence on station is being used where consistent with best practices and deemed beneficial.”

While some SSEP interns are supporting specific branch tasking, the majority are participating in the command’s High-Velocity Internship Initiative (HVII), which the command successfully proposed and funded through the Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) program. Under this initiative, select mentors from the workforce took on small teams of interns to tackle high-value challenges in the science and technology space.

For example, one team of interns is employing Design of Experiments principles to evaluate current Navy test and evaluation practices. Another team is developing a mock authentication system to provide secure logins.

“Overall, we think the HVII has been a great success despite the expected logistical issues,” Cole said. “This is due in no small part to the efforts of the great workforce mentors we’ve found, as well as our close collaboration with Human Resources and the Office of Technology.”

Cole said there was never a question of not having summer interns; it was just a question of how to make it work amid new restrictions in place as a result of COVID-19.

“The SSEP program is a key pipeline of talent for the command,” Cole said. “COVID-19-related disruptions notwithstanding, we are growing, and we are hopeful that SSEP interns can help us lay the groundwork for that continued growth.”

Earlier this summer, the command also “virtually” welcomed six college students as Department of Defense (DOD) interns next summer through the DOD’s Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholar Program.

These six college students from California are also recent SMART scholarship awardees, and learned more about NSWC PHD and department leads interested in working with them while attending a teleconference with command leadership on June 26. As the students are currently selecting what government site they will intern at next year, PHD leadership used the event to entice students to choose the command.