When the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) recently joined regional leaders, educators and students at the Hartnell College Internship Symposium, Aug. 24, the inner workings and broad impact of an ambitious program to partner local college students with leading researchers at the Navy’s prestigious graduate school began to shine.
“NPS is one of the key partners for Hartnell in providing STEM internship opportunities for their students … They are an inspiring group of young future leaders, whose educational and life experiences have been enriched by their time spent at NPS,” said university Interim President Rear Adm. Jan E. Tighe, one of the symposium’s key speakers.
“The Hartnell program is one of many feeder programs to our summer STEM internship activities run out of the Cebrowski Institute,” Tighe continued. “My hat’s off to the faculty and staff members who gave so generously of their time to make a difference in the lives of these young future leaders.”
In total, NPS hosted 93 STEM interns over the past summer comprised of high school, community college and university students selected through several intern partnerships and programs. Collaborative partners include Hartnell College, as well as California State University Monterey Bay, and the Monterey Bay Regional Academy of Computing Education. In addition, NPS is an active participant in the Science and Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP) and the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP).
Participating NPS faculty members mentor interns as they work on unclassified research projects for eight-weeks each summer. Research areas include computer security, space systems, renewable energy, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, and the modeling of virtual environments.
According to NPS STEM Internship Coordinator Alison Kerr, the goal of the internship program is to prepare the next generation of young people to replace aging scientists in the STEM fields.
“NPS and the nation at large recognize that there is a decline in young STEM professionals that are U.S. citizens,” said Kerr. “It's a national crisis … We want to help, inspire and educate these young people on their trajectory toward the STEM disciplines.”
NPS Dean of Research Dr. Jeff Paduan agrees.
“Part of what we are doing here is recruiting the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Paduan. “Our Navy leadership recognizes the need for young people like these that are critical to the future success of the Navy.”
Program administrators aim to inspire students, but Paduan points out that it is often the students that do the inspiring.
“Our interns are very enthusiastic and they make us think ... They inspire us to look at things in a different way,” said Paduan. “Their enthusiasm and the good will that it generates spreads throughout the campus.”
Another goal of the NPS Internship program is to increase educational access and opportunity to underprivileged communities. NPS’ partnership with Hartnell College, a U.S. Department of Education designated Hispanic-serving institution, is part of that seemingly successful effort.
“One hundred percent of the Hartnell students that interned at NPS have graduated with a bachelor’s degree, are working in a STEM field, are working on doctoral and graduate work, or are on track to complete a degree … We cannot take all the credit for that, but we are proud to have been a part of their success,” said Kerr.
A great deal of that credit must go to Hartnell College itself. Hartnell Science and Math Institute Director Andy Newton shares many of NPS’ goals and is a staunch supporter of the program, especially its efforts to bring the STEM disciplines to under-represented communities.
“We have to motivate a whole new generation to serve the workforce,” said Newton. “NPS is a transformational experience for our interns, they come back from NPS different people.”
NPS Interim President Rear Adm. Jan E. Tighe addresses students and faculty at Hartnell College’s annual Summer Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Internship Symposium, Aug. 24. NPS has been a longtime partner of the local junior college, receiving its President’s Award in 2008 for the long time relationship.
That was certainly the case for former NPS intern Genaro Sanchez. Sanchez now works as an electrical engineer for Zodiac Aerospace in Santa Maria, Calif. He worked as an intern with the NPS Space Systems Academic Group and the hastily-formed networks group while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.
“I came to the U.S. when I was 14 and started high school in East Salinas … I am the first one to attend college in my family,” said Sanchez.
While Sanchez’s family worked the fields, he studied English and set his sights on doing more.
“I did not want to come to the U.S. to work the fields, I came here to do something better. I left a lot behind in Mexico … It’s been a struggle, but it was worth it in the end,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez insists that had he not completed an NPS internships he would have still completed college, but there would have been challenges.
“I wouldn't have had the same confidence. Working with the people at NPS and getting the experience that I gained there really helped me out … I was exposed to technologies in a way that built trust in myself. I was good at what I did, and it motivated to keep going,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez recently traveled to Washington D.C. where he shared his experiences at the inaugural Office of Naval Research STEM Forum before an audience of 300 Department of Defense leaders and STEM professionals. He sees himself as a pioneer of sorts and hopes to inspire his younger siblings.
“My parents are really proud, they definitely know that their struggle and support was worth it. My younger siblings are now considering college, I am their role model,” said Sanchez.
The Hartnell-NPS partnership that brought Sanchez to NPS began in 2006 with just two interns, but early successes led to a rapidly expanding program and greater ties between NPS and Hartnell College.
“NPS has been our most prolific partner by far, one third of our interns attend NPS … we consider the NPS internship to be the most valuable of all our various partnerships,” said Newton.
NPS’ Distributed Information Systems and Experimentation (DISE) research group is one of several NPS groups that welcome local interns.
“This is where the work gets done,” said DISE Research Assistant Sharon McNally. McNally herself was hired to work at NPS after completing an internship program.
DISE interns are exposed to cutting-edge research from diverse federal and private agencies through their work with DISE’ Force Innovation and Research Enterprise (FIRE) database. Interns work on the FIRE architecture and produce software that supports DISE experimentation efforts, in the process; interns are exposed to leading scientists and to research into a plethora of STEM areas.
“We are a research group, sponsors contact us to meet their research needs, particularly in the area of field experimentation and data collection,” said McNally. “We utilize an accredited relational database, Oracle, to analyze data and generate reports for our sponsors.”
Former DISE Intern Riqui Schwamm was a DISE Intern from Hartnell College.
“NPS exposed me to a completely different environment … being on a naval base, conducting research. They liked me enough that after my internship they invited me to come work for them. Once I transferred to CSUMB and graduated, I stayed on and now I am working on my master’s degree here at NPS,” said Schwamm.
DISE Lecturer Tony Kendall manages the FIRE database and mentored Schwamm as an intern.
“We came to the realization that interns, working with FIRE, could provide us with return on investment (ROI),” said Kendall. “Riqui was really a success story, he was essentially DISE’s first intern … we hired him after his internship and he became in demand, people were looking for him to assist them in their research,” said Kendall.
Kendall is convinced that the internship program provides real value to the Navy.
“Even if we did not want to be altruistic, our participation in internship program benefits NPS, it's a “win-win” for us and the community.”
But Kendall is altruistic, he asserts that the program is not just about getting a return on an investment; it’s also about giving back to the local community and being a good neighbor.
“As an academic community we have a social responsibility to engage and work with the community … we are not an island unto ourselves, we are a part of the local community,” said Kendall.
“A lot of this can be life changing for these interns … we have three interns preparing to get their masters degrees, imagine their personal trajectory due to their participation in this program,” continued Kendall.
But interns have a lot to learn as they adjust to the intricacies of military and academic culture.
“We have to help them to understand our organizational culture as we socialize them into the institution,” said Kendall. “Even our military students may have difficulty adjusting to our academic culture, these kids are being exposed to both military and academic culture for the first time.”
While Kendall acknowledges that there are cultural barriers to education that go beyond familiarity with higher education, he believes that these barriers can be overcome through effective communication.
“My strategy is to show mutual respect and to understand that they are looking at the NPS experience through a different lens. Things that we say may have a different meaning to them, and we must be cognizant of our different backgrounds to communicate effectively,” said Kendall.
Working with youth, and the time commitment that comes with it, may pose a challenge to NPS researchers, but Paduan notes that voluntary participation in the program produces results that more than validate the effort.
“The internship program is self-regulating. Our faculty are not required to take on interns, but those that do get value and inspiration out of the program and inevitably bring interns back,” said Paduan.