Penn State to lead civilian STEM workforce development program for US Navy

$15.5M will fund students, research projects; connect faculty to more funding opportunities

August 22, 2023

By Ashley WennersHerron 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State College of Engineering and Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) are partnering to launch a new workforce development program to prepare students for jobs as civilian engineers and scientists for the U.S. Navy. Funded with a five-year, $15.5 million grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Penn State Intern PipelinE LInks to Navy Engineering (PIPELINE) program aims to train and connect students to technical civilian careers in the Navy. 

The Department of Defense is the nation’s largest federal employer with a military workforce of about 2.1 million service members and about 770,000 civilian employees, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office

“Meeting the demands for a STEM workforce is critical for preserving our national security,” said Allan Sonsteby, executive director of ARL. “Maintaining a competitive advantage over our adversaries requires a STEM skilled workforce capable of developing leading-edge technologies. We are extremely proud to partner with ONR and the College of Engineering to support workforce development of the next generation of engineers and scientists.”

Tonya Peeples, interim Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of the College of Engineering, echoed Sonsteby’s sentiments. 

“Progress requires critical, innovative thinkers across every discipline and especially in STEM fields,” Peeples said. “This partnership will support training for students, as well as facilitate opportunities for current faculty to advance their research endeavors. It is this type of collaboration that builds a solid foundation on which scientific solutions evolve.”

The timing of the program is critical, according to the project’s principal investigator (PI) Andrew Barnard.

“The problem is the workforce is diminishing, especially as Boomers begin to retire,” said Barnard, professor and director of the Graduate Program in Acoustics in the College of Engineering. “A lot of students don’t know what a federal STEM career looks like — that there is a lot of cutting-edge technology they could help invent and develop through their career. There are great opportunities, and we’re hoping this program will help students realize that.” 

Dean Capone, associate research professor of acoustics in the College of Engineering and a deputy director of ARL who is serving as a co-PI spanning both the college and ARL, called Penn State a “natural fit” to establish PIPELINE. 

“The combination of the College of Engineering and ARL positions Penn State as one of the top universities in the country capable of fulfilling this mission,” Capone said. “The University has a nationally renowned engineering program as part of its land-grant mission, and ARL is a University-Affiliated Research Center with the Navy, under the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research at Penn State.”

Starting this fall, PIPELINE will support up to 20 undergraduate engineering students in Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs and in faculty labs, as well as 10 graduate students per year. According to Barnard, they expect five to 10 undergraduates and two to three graduate students to matriculate into Navy engineering careers by the third year of the program and each year thereafter. 

“We will devote significant resources to building awareness and recruiting at Penn State — across all campuses — and elsewhere, including at minority-serving institutions such as historically Black colleges and universities,” said co-project manager Paul Mittan, professor of practice and director of the Engineering Leadership Development Program at Penn State. Prior to joining the University, Mittan worked in the defense industry. “Our goal is to guide students from recruitment through degree programs and towards STEM careers with the Navy, Department of Defense or contractors.”

A critical component of ensuring a successful pipeline, Mittan and Barnard said, is to also connect faculty with ONR opportunities.

“We have a hurdle in that many faculty do not realize that research funding is available from the Navy for all kinds of research,” Barnard said. “They may not even consider applying for sponsorship from ONR because they think that their work needs to be defense-related or have a clear application the Navy would want — that’s not the case.”

Margalit Goldschmidt, assistant research professor in ARL’s Fluid and Dynamics Office who is serving as a co-PI for ARL, echoed the need to connect faculty with ONR project managers. She noted that by facilitating partnerships that result in more funding for research and to support students, the pipeline could become self-sustaining and extend beyond the five years of the current award.

“A key takeaway is that there are tremendous career and research opportunities working with the Navy as a civilian researcher or a university professor,” Goldschmidt said. “The goal for this project is twofold: to develop a pipeline of students interested in pursuing Navy-related research careers and to develop a core of faculty researchers within the College of Engineering who are interested in working with ONR.”

Beginning this fall, researchers — faculty members, students or faculty-student teams — can submit research project ideas to the PIPELINE collaborators for ONR assessment and potential funding for the work or to support those conducting the work. 

“The collaboration between the college and ARL highlights the best of what Penn State is and the impact of the University not only within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania but nationally,” Capone said.

Also collaborating on PIPELINE is Nicole D’Aulerio, engineering project manager for the Fluid Dynamics and Acoustics Office in ARL, who will serve as the ARL project manager.  

To learn more about PIPELINE, contact Andrew Barnard.



Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations

"The collaboration between the college and ARL highlights the best of what Penn State is and the impact of the University not only within the commonwealth of Pennsylvania but nationally." — Dean Capone