Cultivating the Navy’s next generation of scientists and engineers

by Dr. Stephen Wood, Ocean Engineering Professor –

Check out some highlights from a recent press release from the Navy concerning our collaboration.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) is leading the way through a win-win agreement with the Florida Institute of Technology (Florida Tech) that is aimed at cultivating the Department of the Navy’s next generation of scientists and engineers.

The program allows for undergraduate and graduate students at Florida Tech to apply academic knowledge to real-world science and engineering experiences by resurrecting old unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

This is Ocean Engineering

“The results of that transfer have been so positive that we’re in the process of transferring another one. It’ll be interesting to see where this takes the students next” ~Phil Bernstein, Unmanned Systems Technology branch head.

“The nation needs talented and enthusiastic scientists and engineers in order to remain a world technology leader. This hands-on experience for Florida Tech students to engineer and perform research with a real autonomous underwater vehicle is an excellent example of a successful approach to building the next generation of innovator’s confidence and interest in careers in STEM-related fields,” she said. “More importantly, opportunities like this are critical to ensuring that the nation and the Navy stay out in front.” ~ Dr. Joan Cleveland, program officer in the ONR Battlespace Sensing division.

Launching the Bluefin AUV off of the M/V Thunderforce


“One of the first things I discovered, in that capacity, was that the Florida Tech students were not eligible to apply for intern programs like NREIP (Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program) because we didn’t have a formal agreement,” said Bond. Once in place, the Education Partnership Agreement allowed students to work here during the summer, participate in actual test events, and get hands on experience using the vehicles in NUSSRC’s asset pool. This led to the notion that some of the older vehicles that were to be put in storage could be transferred to Florida Tech for educational purposes.

“I thought the BPAUV would be put to good use as a training tool at Florida Tech, and it’s worked out very well. The students have worked on the vehicle and made it fully functional. This past year they completed 10 successful deployments with the vehicle. Clearly this is preparing the students to do the kind of work we are involved in at NSWC PCD long before they get here. Essentially, these students report here as interns or permanent employees and they are ready to go. The students have gone beyond just operating the BPAUV. They have developed expertise in maintaining and repairing it as well.” ~Bond.

Bluefin Launch

“Without question, this collaboration lays the foundation for graduate work on real-world needs. It also creates a path for potential government and academic joint partnerships. There is a clear and distinct return on investment seen with this partnership.” ~Bernstein.

One recent success story resides with recent Florida Tech graduate student Cheryl Skibski. Skibski was one of the first students who worked on the transferred BPAUV. “In Cheryl’s case, she got a job at Bluefin that is normally given to someone who has been with them for four years,” Bond said. “That says a lot right there. I remember her telling me about the interview and how they were showing her a Bluefin vehicle and she knew all about it already.”

System Checks

 “I encourage these students to apply for jobs in more than one job field. So far, it’s helped many be hired as engineers at NSWC PCD or with contracting companies.” ~ Bond

Florida Tech’s Ocean engineering graduate student Anthony Jones said the experience with the BPAUV has been “exceptional. Jones, who holds an undergraduate degree from University of Arkansas at Little Rock, transferred to Florida Tech for the real-world, industry experience with unmanned systems. “Learning from and working with the Bluefin, an industry standard, helps us to see the student perspective but also the practical applications,” said Jones, who is set to graduate from Florida Tech in May 2014. Thanks to ONR’s SMART Scholarship program, he already has a job with Space and Warfare Command (SPAWAR).

Dr. Wood said Florida Tech is known for their “hands-on approach” to learning at an under graduate level. Florida Tech’s undergraduate ocean engineering curriculum requires students to take classes in mechanical engineering to learn how to build UUVs, electrical engineering to learn how to design electrical circuits, mechatronics to learn how to integrate the various electronic systems such as motors together, and courses in computer science to learn how to program the vehicles for mission assignments.

There she goes!

“I doubt there are any other institutions that let students go out and play with these systems because they are so expensive,” Wood said. “After using the BPAUV, many students are changing their studies to target UUVs.”

To read the full article, click here.

For more news from Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, visit

Key Words: Ocean Engineering, intelligent systems, autonomous underwater vehicles, AUV, remotely operated vehicles, ROV, marine field projects, engineering design showcase.

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