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NEWS | March 4, 2022

Full STEM Ahead: NSWC Philadelphia Division Presents Professional Panel for Aspiring Engineers

By Jermaine Sullivan

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) celebrated National Engineers Week, February 20 – 26, with several events honoring the command’s engineers and their accomplishments, with a focus on the official theme of “Reimagining the Possible!”

For its final celebration, the command held a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) panel led by NSWCPD’s STEM Outreach Program Manager Tristan Wolfe, a mechanical engineer, and an aerospace engineer, on Feb. 25, 2022.

STEM plays a vital role in NSWCPD’s vision: Shape the Navy’s future by continuously expanding the Warfighter’s advantage. By having thoughtful conversations about STEM, NSWCPD increases the knowledge and skills of all its engineers.

The panel catered to Philadelphia region primary and secondary students who expressed an interest in the STEM field. Students from Harris, Darby Township, Sharon Hill, Delcroft, Delco Academy, and Academy Park were in attendance.

The panel included four NSWCPD engineers: Dimple Amleshvarwala-Thaker, a computer scientist; Joseph Berardino, an electrical engineer; Joseph Amato, an electrical engineer and Chris Taylor, a mechanical engineer.

The panel discussed the similarities and differences of these engineering fields.

Amato stated that his job is “to keep the lights on. . . When you plug your phone in the wall a lot of things happen for that to work.” he said, adding that some duties include “electric power generation, which covers generation control distribution, protection. Some electrical engineers focus on the generators to ensure that they are working properly.”

“Other electrical engineers are also known as software electrical engineers,” Amato continued, explaining that these engineers go “into how the software systems control those machines, so it’s very similar to computer science, but there is more of a hardware integration part to that.”

Although Berardino is also an electrical engineer, his duties are different from Amato’s. Instead, Berardino deals with crafting digital models and simulations to discover problems before the ship is built.

“To build facilities to test these things out is expensive. It takes a long time. So being able to do them digitally and study what options you have for system design is something that myself and quite a few others that the command has spent a lot of time focusing on,” Berardino said.

Computer scientists, however, are “sometimes known as software engineers or software developers. A computer scientist, in general, does a lot of the software development that controls the hardware. So a good example is if you have Apple iPhones, you will see continual or periodic software updates. Computer scientists are typically the ones that are developing those software updates, testing them [and] running them through their compatibility, a life cycle or maturity cycle,” Amleshvarwala-Thaker said.

“One aspect I want to touch on is that a lot of things computer scientists do is deal with cybersecurity. You guys may have heard there’s a lot of viruses and hackers,” Amleshvarwala-Thaker said, emphasizing that these computer scientists prevent cyber-attacks from adversaries.

“We do any piece of machinery that turns or moves, drives or converts mechanical power or hydraulic power. We just work on things that you can see, touch, hold and won’t zap you,” Taylor said in detailing the role of a mechanical engineer.

Wolfe added that mechanical engineers are “involved with things that don’t move, too. We’re analyzing these internal stresses that are going on in various types of things that are required to support other things. . . If you’re looking at your chair, somebody has to design that chair in such a way that the chair isn’t going to fall apart when you sit on it. They have to make sure they’re designing it for different types of weight loads.”

After providing the general engineering field descriptions, the panelists provided more details on the full scope of their responsibilities and what they can encounter daily.

For example, Amato had to troubleshoot reasons why a ship’s lights weren’t turning on. Fortunately, he and his team were able turn the lights on, but they didn’t know the reason why the lights turned off to begin with.

“I took a look at everything. Everything appeared to be just fine and they got the lights back on eventually. It’s not very comforting to say ‘well, I don’t know how it broke, but it’s better now.’ We want to find the actual problem,” he said. After two weeks of rigorous troubleshooting, Amato and his team were able to find a solution: two cords were swapped and caused power outages when specific conditions are met.

Situations like these are common in the engineering field. Oftentimes, engineers cannot “search” for the answer to a problem. They must collaborate with one another to find a solution.
Amleshvarwala-Thaker advised the students that unfortunately they may work with peers who don’t value their opinion because of their identity.

”As a woman you have to stand your ground in terms of what you believe in and what you bring to the table. . . Over time you gain respect and people come to you for that information. You are not known as the woman on the team, but you’re known as a leader,” Amleshvarwala-Thaker said.

Bernardino also noted that in this field, technology improves incredibly fast and by the time a ship is built, it may already be using dated hardware.

“Staying up-to-date often involves reading things outside of work and being involved with professional membership societies; I’m a member of the IEEE: Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers,” Berardino said, sharing what he does to stay current in his line of work.

Acting NSWCPD Technical Director Nigel Thijs concluded the event by briefly recapping each engineer’s contribution to the panel, as well as adding some of his personal experiences as a marine engineer.

“As engineers we can work on anything, but people usually concentrate on an area of interest like concept design, or more tangible engineering areas like tests and evaluation. . . engineers at NSWCPD work across the full engineering spectrum. As students, remember that engineering opens up options that you might not have thought of until you start learning more about yourselves and what elements of STEM align with your dreams,” Thijs said.

NSWCPD celebrated National Engineers Week with events throughout the week including; a Joint Warfare Center Black History Month special presentation by retired Capt. Sheila Jenkins and a brief by Jack Giessner, SES, Region III, Nuclear Regulatory Commission.