NEWPORT, R.I. — A brochure highlighting 50 Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) projects that aim to recruit as many as 140 college engineering students to work for the 10 warfare centers across the country shows how research for the Navy is critical to serving the fleet.
The third annual NEEC “Proceedings” captures the 2019 research projects and describes ongoing and future projects for the Navy.
“The NEEC program is important for the hiring, development, maintenance and sustainment of the technical knowledge base that is crucial to the execution of our undersea and surface warfare missions, which are critical to the Navy and the nation,” said Naval Surface & Undersea Warfare Centers Executive Director Brett Seidle in the document’s introduction. “With over 50 grants awarded to U.S. universities, the NEEC program continues to seek and hire talented students in critical and specialized fields, which are particularly important in this world of rapidly changing technology.”
Established 10 years ago by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) to amplify its naval architecture program, NEEC now has a track record of recruiting the brightest young minds to resolve naval technology challenges. Starting with a request for collegiate proposals in the fall, NEEC offers grants to the top candidates to sponsor their experimental projects. Mentors at the warfare centers work with students and their professors to engage in their tasking during the academic year, then one or two students from each university come to the warfare center each summer to put their project to the test.
The NAVSEA NEEC program aligns well with the new 2020-24 NAVSEA Warfare Centers Strategic Plan, whose vision is “Accelerate Maritime Superiority – Today, Tomorrow and the Navy After Next.” The goals defined in the plan — Empower the Workforce, Technical and Business Excellence, Enhanced Partnerships, and Relevant Innovation—are directly applicable to the NEEC program.
“We see this as a pretty good deal because we can get top universities involved in Navy problems, and students can get internships. If the students do well, they could potentially come work full time for the Navy. If they do start as new hires at the warfare centers, they generally hit the ground running working on important Navy problems,” NEEC director Sally Sutherland-Pietrzak said. “The goal is to see if we like these students, and if they would be good hires.”
Some warfare centers have radically unique project needs, she explained, so it can be difficult to find new talent. But through NEEC, each warfare center can discover collegiate programs that align with their specialized Naval needs, then can fund that doctorate or master’s degree student to work in the field. A NEEC doctorate student from Virginia Polytechnic Institute led the bat bio-sonar project, for example – he now works at Division Newport and is a NEEC mentor.
“He was trying to understand the ears of the bat, and we were trying to use that design to make our designs more efficient,” Sutherland-Pietrzak said. “He already had funding from the Office of Naval Research, which is rare as a new hire, and now we’re evaluating some of his technology for our unmanned vehicles.”
NUWC Division Newport’s NEEC director, Dr. Elizabeth Magliula, partners with the Chief Technology Office and subject matter experts to review topic areas of interest that the command hopes to enhance with collegiate projects. She reviews all the incoming proposals, including analysis of technical merit, student participation, and budget, among other elements. They received 46 proposals in 2018.
“This aligns with our areas of expertise because we want to build and maintain a knowledge base in those topic areas, but we also look ahead to build knowledge and enhance warfighting capability,” Magliula said. “We are 14 months in to a three-year cycle, with an average of 25 students from five universities, including Baylor, University of Tennessee, Michigan Tech, Virginia Tech and the University of Rhode Island.”
NEEC has a high retention rate, and last year, Division Newport hired three NEEC students to work across various departments and has hired 10 students since 2016. Magliula said students that the mentors identify as exceptional are offered positions but stiff industry competition means they have an opportunity to entertain offers from other companies, so it reflects well on the program if they chose to work for NUWC.
“We have a variety of NEEC success stories across all the warfare centers,” Sutherland-Pietrzak said. “We feel like we’re making a contribution to the fleet, bringing in talented people. We want them to succeed and do well.”
Ten NUWC Division Newport projects are listed in the brochure, including five that are currently underway at Division Newport:
• “Improved Robot Autonomy using Neuromorphic-Based Stochastic Computing,” Baylor University
• “Bioinspired Physical Deep Learning Paradigm for Sonar Sensing in Cluttered Environments,” Department of Mechanical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
• “Fouling-Resist Elastomeric Coatings based on Self-Organizing Heterogeneous Surfaces,” University of Tennessee
• “Localization, Tracking, and Classification of On-Ice and Underwater Noise Sources Using Machine Learning,” Michigan Technological University
• “Performance of Elastomeric Coatings and Coated Structures Subjected to Long Term Seawater Submersion, UV Radiation, and Arctic Temperatures under Extreme Loading Conditions,” University of Rhode Island
For more information about NEEC, visit https://www.navsea.navy.mil/Home/Warfare-Centers/Partnerships/NEEC/
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.