DAHLGREN, Va. –
After Thomas Shifflett graduated from high school in Central Virginia, he embarked on a wrestling career at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Shifflett admitted wrestling was more of a priority for him than academics, but that all changed after he suffered a back injury while lifting weights.
“I hurt my back and I went on for about six months before getting it checked out,” Shifflett said. “What ended up happening is I herniated three of my lumbar discs, so that took me out of the lineup.”
Shifflett struggled to sit through classes, and walking was laborious because he was in so much pain.
He eventually transferred to Liberty University in Lynchburg with a renewed focus on academics.
He earned a bachelor’s degree with Magna Cum Laude Honors in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Computer Science.
He onboarded at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in the Integrated Topside Design Branch as an intern with the STEM Student Employment Program in June 2020 until March 2021. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2021 and NSWCDD offered him a position as a full-time employee two months later.
Shifflett has rapidly ascended since last July.
Following a brief stint as a support engineer, he took on the role as the Topside Engineering Technical lead for the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) and Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) in October of 2021, and then Shifflett transitioned to the Topside Engineering - Digital Engineering Transition Lead last December.
Several mentors have aided Shifflett's development.
Katie Willis, who is the Electromagnetic Effects Division head, said Shifflett’s positive attitude and desire to make a difference each day has also led to his fast rise.
“He is a self-starter,” Willis said. “He completes the tasking that he is given, but more importantly he explores ways to invest the rest of his professional time to improve or build without any additional instruction.”
Willis added that Shifflett is an effective communicator and can explain technical problems and solutions in a concise manner.
“That is why we find him so valuable within the warfare center,” Willis said. “He is able to deep dive and explain the technical matter across the chain of command.”
When Shifflett was initially hired, he supported the EPF 13 autonomous package integration project and the concept design of the LAW. The EPF 13 package is the Navy’s test in moving the Perception and Situational Awareness systems onto a large vessel as fast and concise as possible. For both projects, Shifflett was the Topside Engineering Technical lead, which entailed analyzing the contractor's design, and communicating with the sponsor, technical warrant holders and contractors to ensure the deliverables provided by the contractor met the sponsor’s requirements and all risks were mitigated.
In Shifflett’s current position as the Topside Engineering – Digital Engineering Transition lead, he is focusing on how topside engineers do their analysis for placement of systems and sensors, and how he can bring that effort and analysis into the new digital age with the ultimate goal of benefiting the warfighter with a higher fidelity topside engineering effort.
“Our motto is ‘Begin with the operator and end with the operator,' ” Shifflett said.
Shifflett is constantly exploring ways to improve his department.
“I listen to what people talk about, their woes and what they wish they could have, and I try to be innovative in bringing that to our topside engineering effort,” Shifflett said.
Shifflett is currently on rotation with Above Water Sensors and Lasers. When he is not on duty for that role, he typically starts his day at 5 a.m. This allows him to work for approximately four hours with no distractions, a tip he learned from his late father that aids him in getting into the right mindset for the day.
Reflecting on his internship, Shiflett is grateful for the call from the current Electronic Warfare Systems Branch head, Jessica Delgado, offering him the internship at NSWCDD. He has been thriving in his career ever since.
“[Delgado] really strummed my patriotic string and talked me into joining the NSWCDD workforce,” Shifflett said. “Now every day I come here, I think about the warfighter and how I can impact that warfighter because everything we do has a direct impact on them. If we are not achieving excellence for the warfighter, then what is the point of doing it? That is my point of view.”