2018-06-07 / Around Town

STEM Leads to Engineering Careers

Andrew DeSousa, an engineer in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, recently reminisced over a photo in the March 2008 issue of NUWC’s newsletter. The picture captured Tom Dolan, his former mentor, helping him, at the time of the photo a sophomore at Portsmouth High School, assemble the drive train chassis on a robot.

The photo accompanied an article on NUWC Newport employees working with high school students in the Aquidneck Island Robotics (AIR) program to prepare them for a FIRST Robotics Competition. The image provided a brief foray into the past for the two NUWC Newport employees.

“That was the overdrive competition with the arm that held the big ball,” Dolan said. “We got the robot done in like three or four weeks.”

DeSousa began with the program at the urging of his older brother Michael, who now works in NUWC’s Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, and also was in the robotics program when he was in high school.

“[Michael] knew I was interested in taking things apart and putting them back together as a kid, and he thought it would be a good idea to join the robotics team,” DeSousa said. “I joined my sophomore year and stayed with it until I graduated.”

DeSousa went on to attend the University of Rhode Island, where he graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in nuclear engineering.

“When I graduated with my degree I came to a job fair here where I met my future branch head,” DeSousa said. “I submitted my résumé and everything else is history.”

A 2006 URI graduate, Dolan is in his 17th year with the robotics program, which he joined as a senior at Middletown High School in 2002.

Candida Desjardins, who leads the Educational Outreach Program and is the regional coordinator for Department of Defense (DoD) STEM, says she has seen firsthand how these skills learned in the robotics program translate to the workforce.

“The skills that they get from doing these programs are the skills that we want our workforce to have: working together, interdisciplinary, cognizant of timelines, cognizant of costs, able to think on the fly,” Desjardins said. “These are all things that make a really good employee and those are the skills that the kids learn...”

The FIRST Robotics Competition has been around since 1992. It is a DoD STEM-supported program in which teams of 25-plus students have just six weeks to build and program robots to perform challenging tasks against a field of competitors.

NUWC Newport also has educational partnership agreements with five schools: New Bedford High School, Dartmouth High School, Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School and Newport Public Schools.

“These programs work,” Desjardins said. “What’s nice is it gives the kids a chance to work with an engineer.”

For more information on the Aquidneck Island Robotics team, visit www.air4h.org – NTW Staff

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