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NPS Showcases Latest Cohort of Summer STEM Interns

NPS Showcases Latest Cohort of Summer STEM Interns

This year’s cohort of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) interns celebrates the completion of their summer research experience on campus with the annual research showcase, July 28. Over the years, hundreds of high school and college students have spent their summers at NPS, advancing the Navy’s efforts to maintain a robust workforce in the STEM disciplines

The Department of the Navy has been a strong advocate for the development of a world-class science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, and for good reason. For the Navy and Marine Corps to maintain technological superiority, the services require a robust community of scientists, engineers and technologists ready to take on the service’s current and future challenges, now and for years to come.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has its own robust history of advocacy for the STEM disciplines. Working closely with the Office of Naval Research STEM Coordination Office, in addition to partnerships with regional institutions, NPS has become a key contributor to the Navy’s aspirations in STEM, providing opportunities for hundreds of high school and college students to cut their teeth on defense-focused research alongside NPS faculty and scientists.

The current crop of interns, one of the smaller groups in relation to past years, has devoted several weeks on a wide range of Navy and DOD relevant research projects while getting to geek out with top researchers in the fields they are most interested in. 

Joao McGuire of Monterey has served as an NPS intern for three years in a row and has returned to get re-energized in research work he wants to excel in. He’s working on an undergraduate degree in physics and economics at Johns Hopkins University. 

“NPS’ summer internship program really made an impact on my higher education prospects,” said McGuire, a graduate of York School in Monterey. “I got a full ride scholarship to Johns Hopkins because as I see it, NPS provided the tools to be a better learner in my high school years, including the hands-on laboratory work experience I got in those summer months.”

McGuire’s internship this year is sponsored by the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP), one of several sponsored internship opportunities in the ONR portfolio. His undergraduate degree will have an institutional concentration in materials engineering, and he’s looking at pursuing graduate school in the interdisciplinary field of materials science or aerospace. 

This summer, McGuire worked with carbon-nanotube steel composite structures, conducting a wear test to determine structure failure dynamics. He used aluminum silicate as the abrasive at various friction points and moments, using a scanning electron microscope to analyze component failure.

“I just got trained on the new Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscope,” he explains. “It's a little daunting to work with these machines, but it certainly is cool.”

McGuire worked alongside former NPS Department of Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Andy Nieto in the school’s materials lab. Tragically, Nieto passed away in a scuba-diving accident in the Monterey Bay in July, but he left a profound impact on so many around him, including his interns.

“I would say Professor Andy Nieto was my favorite person to work with here. He strode forward calmly through problems in a way I hope to emulate. May he rest in peace,” said McGuire.

Many of the interns on the NPS campus are part of another program in the ONR portfolio, the Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program, or SEAP. The program places high school students in Navy laboratories where they take part in real Naval research for eight-week terms during the summer.

SEAP is a competitive program with around 300 placements in more than 30 laboratories around the country. Interns are selected based upon academic achievement, personal statements, recommendations, and career and research interests. There are three regional areas across the U.S. in which students can apply. 

NPS research associate Alison Kerr has been at the helm of the university’s internship programs for several years, working closely with ONR and several regional institutions to build up an impressive program that has impacted hundreds of students’ lives. Kerr is wrapping up her final summer leading the program, retiring at the end of the year. 

According to Kerr, 260 interns have come to NPS through SEAP, 167 through NREIP, and localized efforts like Hartnell College’s program has provided another 201 students with opportunities to advance their knowledge in the sciences.

Materials science has the largest number of interns in this current cohort, with Nieto and Dr. Claudia Luhrs supporting six total interns over the summer. In addition to McGuire, Abigail Kim and Sneha Gokaraju teamed up to explore research in additive manufacturing.

“Our research is to look at 3-D printed polymer composites under certain conditions, those conditions being the ‘as-printed’ and the QUV-tested [accelerated weathering test] samples to see if the UV radiation influenced the materials,” explained Kim. “This is the first research project that I have been a part of, and I have learned so much.”

Interestingly, Kim found out about the SEAP program through a friend just weeks before the deadline to submit the applications. 

“I got lucky enough to go to the meet and greet where people can see what projects are available and to meet the mentors,” said Kim. “I saw that this project was based off 3D-printed materials, which I found very interesting, so I sent out an email to the mentor of this project and I was lucky enough to get chosen.” 

Kim, who is beginning her junior year at Carmel High School, credits program manager Kerr for creating such a positive experience for her and her fellow interns, especially under difficult circumstances. 

“Alison Kerr is such an amazing person! She has helped all the new interns out by providing them some line of support or contact if we need any resources for our projects or have some general questions about NPS,” said Kim .“She was so supportive of us when we lost our mentor [Nieto], and I am so grateful that I had the chance to meet her because she is such a caring and compassionate person to be around.”

Lahari Yallapragada got the chance to work with senior faculty in the NPS Department of Computer Science, Drs. Neil Rowe and Arjit Das. The two colleagues have done seminal work in digital forensics and cyberwarfare.

“Coming into this internship, I had very little experience with analyzing big data,” Yallapragada said. “After 8-weeks, I have learned many valuable skills, and not just analyzing big data.

“Specifically, [we learned about] fitting data to a logistic scale; creating histograms; using complex math formulas in Python programming, like the Euclidean Distance Formula and the Logistic Sigmoid Function; and the basics of machine learning models through Weka software. I also gained valuable experience working in a professional environment that I hope to use in future internships and jobs,” she added. 

Yallapragada, a junior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, Calif., did her research when it came to finding the best internship program for her, looking at NASA and UCSB before making the decision to apply to SEAP.

“I want to work in computer science, specifically something to do with artificial intelligence,” she said. “I can use the many computer science skills I learned at NPS, and I can expand on my basic knowledge of AI/ML that I learned during this internship, for the future.”

A rising senior at Carmel High School, Zack Seifert, worked with Faculty Associate Ross Eldred in the Center for Autonomous Vehicle Research where he learned to design and fabricate custom circuit boards. 

“This custom circuit is designed to fulfill my professor's goal of constructing a closed loop vehicle, meaning that the vehicle will make different decisions based on its environmental data from sensors,” said Seifert, who really valued advancing his skills in computer-aided design (CAD).

“My more advanced CAD skills will help me design new products for my future startups and better lead my high school's robotics team,” said Seifert. 

“NPS faculty are super cool and helpful,” he continued. “I also love the RoboDojo lab because they have a lot of 3D printers and other awesome tools. And I got to learn a lot about NPS and our country’s military.”

With another cohort of summer internships in the books, the experience, inspiration and education gained ensure the university is contributing to the Navy’s aspirations in STEM, imperative to keep the U.S. competitive in this era of technological superiority. 

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