UConn students who pursue careers through the University’s new undersea engineering program will play a vital role in our national defense and have opportunities to work on some of the most sophisticated submarines in the world, three members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said during a rare group visit to Storrs Friday.
Speaking to about 200 first-year engineering students in the Torrey Life Sciences building, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, said UConn’s role in training a new generation of highly skilled naval engineers is crucial to maintaining the state’s future economic growth.
“Naval research, naval engineering, naval science has never been more important,” Blumenthal told the students. “The research you are doing now and in the future will be the lifeblood of our national defense.”
Courtney, whose district includes the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in the southeastern corner of the state, described the workplace as having a “Google-like” atmosphere, with waves of young engineers entering the industry and using the latest skills and technologies to build a new generation of submarines for the U.S. Navy. Electric Boat expects to hire 14,000 employees over the next decade to keep pace with government demand for new Virginia and Columbia classes of submarines.
“It’s really interesting work,” Courtney told the students, an overwhelming majority of whom were from Connecticut. “You’re building a vessel powered by a nuclear engine and armed with some of the most powerful tools in our defense infrastructure. There is no margin for error. That is why the engineering and design work is so important.”
UConn’s new undersea engineering program was made possible through a $1.3 million grant from the Office of Naval Research. Blumenthal, Murphy, and Courtney were instrumental in securing the three-year award.
“We’re all here, the three of us, because this is a groundbreaking project,” Murphy said. “We have a level of excitement that we hope you will share about this project. You know that by simply being selected for a prestigious engineering program like UConn’s, you will be sought after when you leave here and there is probably nothing more exciting than to be working on a submarine. …This is an amazing way for you to give back … and help deliver a product that contributes to the public welfare and defense of this country.”
Southern New England has a long and distinguished relationship with the U.S. Navy. Besides Electric Boat, the region also is home to some 600 smaller firms supplying parts and others services to support the submarine fleet. Other institutions in the region include the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island and Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon, a leading provider of electronics, missile defense systems, and mission command and control systems for the military.
As part of the grant award, UConn, the University of Rhode Island, and the region’s various industries combined to create the Southeast New England STEM Coalition. One of the Coalition’s first acts was to launch the undersea concentration at UConn and URI this fall for up to 50 students on each campus. The nine-credit program features guest speakers with Navy backgrounds, Navy-based undergraduate research and design projects, and a mentorship program.
Existing internship programs are being expanded as part of the new program and will play a key role in the students’ experience.
Electric Boat representative Brenda Petell said the company hired 54 summer interns from UConn this season. Internships are offered to all students – from those in their freshman year to those pursuing master’s degrees. All engineering disciplines are considered, Petell said – mechanical, electrical, structural, chemical, nuclear, naval, and even biomedical. Ninety percent of those participating in the internship program were offered jobs, she noted.
Petell’s comments were good news for Nathan Berardi, a first-year mechanical engineering student from Griswold, Connecticut. Berardi said he has family members who worked at Electric Boat and a cousin working there now. Students he went to high school with are doing drafting work there.
“I think this new program is great,” said Berardi, 17. “I’m going for a mechanical engineering degree and I feel there may be a lot of opportunities for me in the naval industry.”
Taryn Murasso, 18, and a first-year student in environmental engineering was less sure. But she was keeping an open mind.
“I want to learn more about it,” Murasso said. “It sounds interesting. But I need to know more.”
A recruiting event for the program will take place in October and seminars are planned for the spring.