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NEWS | July 19, 2021

RI governor talks commitment to education, equity and economy during visit to NUWC Division Newport

By NUWC Division Newport Public Affairs

As Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee concluded his visit to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport on July 14, he stopped by a 10-by-15-foot pool located outside the command’s gate to chat with some local high school students participating in the Undersea Technology Apprentice Program.

“Was this put together for you?” the governor asked Olivia Daniello, a rising senior at Barrington High School, referring to the underwater robot she and her team were operating in the tank.

“No, we started with an original design, parts and a budget to stay within,” Daniello explained. “There’s a lot of originality involved. Everyone’s design will be different.”

UTAP provides an opportunity for up to 20 students to study part time for three weeks during the summer alongside NUWC Division Newport scientists and engineers. In the process, students gain valuable insights by working with advanced technology while developing real-world applications of science and math lessons learned at school.

Programs like UTAP are just one example of how Division Newport is helping to make Rhode Island a better place to live and work — both now and in the future — that McKee saw during his visit to the command, which engineers, builds and supports the U.S. Navy’s fleet of ships and combat systems.

Throughout the morning, McKee met with Technical Director Ron Vien, Commanding Officer Capt. Chad Hennings, Deputy Technical Director Don Aker, and members of Division Newport’s technology transfer, small business, acquisition and education offices. He toured the Virginia Payload Tube Facility and briefly addressed a few hundred members of the workforce during and all-hands briefing.

“When I was sworn in, there was a poet laureate in the state that had an interesting concept that said we’re working toward a more perfect imperfection,” McKee said. “That’s what we’re doing today. Coming out of COVID, we’ve identified areas where we need to get more perfect and push toward.”

Those areas include equity, economy, education and safety, which McKee references in his Rhode Island 2030 plan to improve the future of the state. A year-round education program for students throughout the state — and, specifically, in Providence — is a key component of this plan.

“When we connect our communities into the education process we’re going to need you,” McKee said. “We’re going to need people who are interested in seeing a future in the state that is dynamic, progressive and hitting on all cylinders so that we can raise our families.”

Much of the work at Division Newport is ensuring that type of future.

Candida Desjardins runs Division Newport’s Educational Outreach Program. During a roundtable discussion with McKee earlier in the day, Desjardins talked about how her program meets the educational needs of students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but also how it works mostly with gateway cities and disadvantaged students.

“We average about 6,000 students a year we work with and they’re meaningful interactions, not just a booth at a career fair,” Desjardins said. “It’s our scientists and engineers working with students one-on-one. It’s not just working with STEM; it’s working with STEM role models.”

Division Newport is not just working to shape the future workforce, though. Through its technology partnerships, Division Newport is engaging with industry and academia on multiple fronts to sharpen the cutting edge in undersea technology today.

“We’re responsible for advancing the state of the art in undersea warfare,” Vien said. “We have a lot of scientists and engineers working on different systems, but we also have people who focus on innovation.”

As one would imagine given this focus, Division Newport’s impact on the local economy is significant.

In fiscal year (FY) 2020, Division Newport contributed $796 million to the local economy for payroll, contracts, construction and services purchased. This included a workforce of 3,515 civil service employees and 2,611 contractors, the majority of whom live in Rhode Island.

Contracts have and continue to play a significant role in this economic impact. According to Sarah Heard, head of Division Newport’s Small Business Office, Division Newport has executed $542 million in contracts in FY 2021, of which $157 million has gone to small businesses.

Outreach events like Industry Day and the recent Ocean State Workshop have helped facilitate working relationships between Division Newport, industry and academia, but they are not the only method.

As Tom Carroll, an analyst in the Strategic Planning Office, explained, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) allows the government to acquire prototypes and emerging technology without dealing with some of the cumbersome boundaries present in traditional contracts. This is particularly helpful for dealing with small businesses and companies who do not traditionally interact with the government.

“This allows those nontraditional companies to have a much better insight into our needs,” Carroll said. “This leads to improved communication, which drives collaboration and innovation.”

In recent years, the Navy realized there was a need to increase these lines of communication and make them more accessible. Thus, the NavalX Tech Bridges were created. One of the first was the Northeast Tech Bridge located in Newport, which is directed by Dr. Steve Bordonaro.

In his presentation to the governor, Bordonaro outlined a three-part strategy employed by the tech bridges to better attract small businesses. This includes establishing partnerships with organizations — like the University of Rhode Island and Polaris MEP — with which small businesses are familiar, creating programs that support companies throughout project lifecycles and providing facilities for collaboration. This includes Division Newport’s Narragansett Bay Test Facility, Bordonaro noted, as well as the 401 Tech Bridge facility in Portsmouth, which will have a groundbreaking ceremony in September.

Once these connections are established, there are a number of different possibilities for agreements beyond the OTA. According to Valerie Larkin, technology transfer manager, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) are a common mechanism that support collaborative research between a federal laboratory and a non-federal entity.

“We also do Educational Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which encourage and enhance study in scientific disciplines through collaboration between defense labs and academia,” Larkin said. “Most of the EPAs we have are with colleges and universities, but we also do them with high schools and middle schools to encourage STEM.”

Division Newport also enters into patent licensing agreements, as well as Work for Private Parties (WPP) agreements that provide private party access to government facilities and expertise. Larkin noted that Partnership Intermediary Agreements (PIAs), which are between federal labs and nonprofits, also help Division Newport in its technology transfer mission. The command established 56 new partnership agreements in FY 2020 alone.

Division Newport’s impact obviously extends well-beyond education and the local economy, though, as its primary mission is to ensure the technical superiority of the U.S. Navy in undersea warfare and thus the freedom of this country.

“We have an advantage in the undersea domain and we want to maintain that first as a deterrent,” Hennings said. “We want the Chinese and Russian officials to wake up in the morning and say, ‘this is not the morning we want to test the U.S Navy.’

“What we’re looking for is a Navy that is going to deter, defeat and win in a kinetic fight.”

“You’re contributing in a way to keep this country safe,” McKee said in his closing remarks to the Division Newport workforce. “When I was here on Memorial Day, I talked about how we live in a country where we enjoy certain freedoms. We can do that, in part, because of the work you do here.”

NUWC Division 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.

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 Capt. Chad Hennings, NUWC Newport maintains major detachments in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Andros Island in the Bahamas, as well as test facilities at Seneca Lake and Fisher's Island, New York, Leesburg, Florida, and Dodge Pond, Connecticut.