By Sarah K. Miller, NSWC Crane Corporate Communications
CRANE, Ind. – The first Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) employee has graduated from the Defense Engineering and Technology Master’s Degree program delivered jointly by the United Kingdom-based Cranfield University and Indiana’s own Purdue University. The collaboration between Cranfield and Purdue Universities was formalized in 2018 to provide a tailored, advanced degree for the Crane workforce.
Ryan Ubelhor, Chief Scientist of the Munitions Evaluation and Testing Laboratory at NSWC Crane, was the first to graduate from the program in December of 2021. Ubelhor started the program when it began in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and says the program was very beneficial.
“The experience was eye opening, challenging, and rewarding,” says Ubelhor. “I was not itching to go back to school, but when the classes are very work-related it’s hard to say no. It’s a very tailored program to an active workforce with concepts that were interesting. The instructors have a clear priority that the students learn the topics and apply as closely as possible to their existing work areas. I received a window into the design or use of a defense technology normally outside my working experience.”
Adam Parsley, a Chief Engineer on the Expeditionary Warfare Department staff at NSWC Crane, has been part of organizing this collaborative effort since its inception. Parsley says it is meaningful to see the students’ efforts throughout their time in the program.
“It’s really gratifying and validating to see the work and investment that we’ve put into the planning and execution of this Defense Engineering & Technology MS program finally come to fruition,” says Parsley. “I can be impatient sometimes, but a degree is not something you turn out overnight. Crane started its investment into this program in FY18, and we are finally seeing the rewards in terms of degrees earned. Not only that, but I’m also super proud of the time and energy that each of the students have put into the program – it’s no cake walk, as I’m sure they can attest.”
STEM education designed for an expeditionary workforce
The National Defense Strategy (NDS) states the importance workforce development and cultivating a high-quality military and civilian workforce. It states mission success relies on more than technology, but that it “depends on the ability of our warfighters and the Department workforce to integrate new capabilities, adapt warfighting approaches, and change business practices to achieve mission success.” It also states the Department will continue to “explore streamlined, non-traditional pathways to bring critical skills into service” alongside highlighting partnerships with universities. The Personnel and Readiness Strategy for 2030 outlines that cultivating a technologically advanced military and civilian workforce will ensure national security. The Department of Defense (DoD) STEM Strategic Plan also states the importance of “sustaining engagement of DoD professionals in STEM fields in workforce development programs.”
Cranfield is a postgraduate university that offers specialized programs in defense engineering while Purdue offers a variety of globally-recognized programs across engineering and technology disciplines. This workforce development initiative provides courses developed for defense related technologies and applications, which is something not typically offered in academic curriculum.
Parsley says there are many ways that the Defense Engineering master’s program is unique, including rapidly increasing access to critical knowledge of many defense systems.
“The course is a huge accelerator in getting our technical workforce to the cutting edge of knowledge and research in defense-related technologies,” says Parsley. “The degree is designed to take students into great depth, very quickly, into fields that aren’t typically touched in undergraduate studies. For example, the Fundamentals of Ballistics course, which I took as a short course, greatly accelerated my knowledge of ballistics and gave me an expansive list of resources to reference for further research. This type of knowledge is typically very concentrated at a DoD lab, is not often packaged for knowledge-transfer, and takes years of osmosis to pass from one individual to another. What we’re doing helps to compress that from years to weeks and months.”
Amber Hoffman, the Academics and Succession Planning Lead for Workforce Development at NSWC Crane, was involved in making this dual degree program a success. She says this approach for this program was different.
“When Adam came to me with the concept of this degree program and the format we hold it in, I was thrown for a loop,” says Hoffman. “In the past and currently for most cohort programs we organize, they are on a set schedule with employees taking all course together until graduation. This program allows employees flexibility and freedom of choose some of the courses they want to take. The goal is to offer about five classes per year and give employees the ability to select the classes they want to take over the course of approximately three to four years to earn the degree. This approach is truly unique. Employees are in the driver seat for their education that is aligned to the mission of NSWC Crane and the Navy.”
NSWC Crane’s Expeditionary Warfare mission area consists of hundreds of engineers, scientists, and technicians who equip the most elite warriors for the combat environment. They are focused on intelligent solutions for the expeditionary warfighter providing enhanced detection, decision making, and engagement capabilities in an integrated environment. With more than one million square feet of office, laboratory, and test ranges, Crane provides a distinct advantage in sensors, communications, power and energy, mobility, specialized munitions, and weapons.
Expeditionary missions can involve multiple services, joint forces, or special operations—which often include a wide variety of systems that communicate to each other. The Chief of Naval Operations NavPlan 2021 states how the Marine Corps’ focus on fielding a naval expeditionary force is a method to maintain security at sea: “By delivering mission-critical capabilities from expeditionary advanced bases, the Marines provide more vectors of attack to deter and ultimately defeat adversary aggression.”
Ubelhor says the unique programming catered to expeditionary needs is beneficial to employees in a wide variety of roles.
“After getting their feet wet, this program allows them to focus, really focus, on the defense sector,” says Ubelhor. “This brings students into the military problem set which is highly beneficial to the workforce. It is something that would be significant to someone just starting or someone more established in their career. Most of my job at Crane is dealing with the details, and this program helped me see the bigger picture about how these details impact the life cycle of the system.”
Carina Rankinen, an Engineer at NSWC Crane, is a military spouse and employee working from NSWC Carderock. Rankinen is planning on graduating from the program at the end of this year. Rankinen says the program fit well with her experience and role.
“I have broad engineering experience in Navy, Army, and within the special operations community,” says Rankinen. “This MS helps you be a jack of all trades. Most Master’s degrees are used for people who want to get more specific in a discipline. This program was a phenomenal opportunity because it provided a bird’s eye view of expeditionary technology across the Navy and British defense systems. It teaches analytical thinking—thinking laterally. It helps to better understand the evolutionary process and design approach in developing expeditionary weapon systems. As opposed to what you learn as an undergraduate engineer, this program teaches practical application.”
Jonathan Kidner, an Engineer at NSWC Crane, will complete the program next year and says the class has been useful.
“This class was right up my alley and will allow me to do my job better,” says Kidner. “Many engineers work having in-depth knowledge on a specific system or confined topic, focusing on a system environment or domain. I work on system of system engineering; can system A talk to system B? It’s a mile wide and an inch deep—more of a workable knowledge of the overall problem which has helped me be able to communicate and translate between different technical groups. The breadth is unique—you wouldn’t learn this outside of defense schools. For instance, with multi-domain systems engineering, if there is a new widget needed, you need the technical knowledge of the various systems.”
Students enrolled in the dual MS degree are completing the courses and working full time—they also adapted to a virtual environment during the remote framework surrounding COVID-19. Ubelhor says the balancing the program with workload was challenging but worth the effort.
“We are all still working full-time,” says Ubelhor. “In a virtual environment, it can be harder to have direct feedback on your work. You have to be assertive when you need help—but the help is always available. I would tell someone considering the program to ‘just do it.’ The goal of the instructors is to teach you; they’ll work with you. Their goal is for you to learn this material.”
Equipping the S&T community with knowledge needed for rapid innovation
The NDS also states the change in the global security environment—and how this change is different than previous decades of peacetime. The military faces “an ever more lethal and disruptive battlefield, combined across domains, and conducted at increasing speed and reach,” further impacted by the “rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war.”
The program provides students with specified knowledge on the systems they work with, or may work with, to tackle future warfighter problems. Rankinen says the program also increases process efficiency in order to solve difficult challenges.
“These skills are crucial due to the nature of threats today,” says Rankinen. “We need people who understand the breadth of knowledge this program provides. Through the knowledge gained from the program, you get better cross-team discussion with capability development that is more efficient. This helps us move quickly—which is critical with expeditionary systems.”
Parsley says the impact of this program extends beyond NSWC Crane.
“The impact manifests itself in a couple of different ways,” says Parsley. “First, in the program itself, we have set a model for a custom-built MS program that I know is being looked at from other DoD Activities. We’ve had NSWC Corona, MARCORSYSCOM, and the Army participate in our courses, with continued discussions with the likes of NSWC Indian Head on future participation. Then we have the individuals themselves, and the accelerated and in-depth expertise that they garner in these focused, defense-centric courses.”
Rankinen says the program is a force multiplier for teams.
“I love learning and I think personal growth is an important thing to strive for,” says Rankinen. “Every day is a new experience and adventure. I loved how the classes built on each other. I would not have known what I know now about many systems without this course…and the program benefits not just those in the program, but also those surrounded by graduates. It is a great way to see what the bigger picture is, bring it back, and apply it to anything you do in the workplace.”
Ubelhor holds multiple patents related to calorimetry and analysis tools utilized for thermal analysis of energetic or destructive events. He collaborates with government agencies, universities, and industry for thermal analysis and predictive surveillance of specialized munitions as well as energetic materials. Ubelhor is a board member of the International Heat Flow Calorimetry Symposium on Energetic Materials, which is an international society of researchers related to his field and was held at NSWC Crane in 2017. He is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Energetic Materials Characterization working group and as team lead, he facilitates technical and political discussion for the U.S. section regarding the concerns, tests, and data requirements for monitoring the ageing of energetic materials and devices.
Ubelhor is also part of NSWC Crane Science and Technology (S&T) working groups and strategic areas, which includes workforce development initiatives. These groups include subject matter experts in different S&T areas who work toward future capabilities. He says the program has provided an opportunity to develop future paths for collaboration.
“The S&T groups help me see what other teams work on at NSWC Crane,” says Ubelhor. “Equipped with more broad knowledge and meeting more people in the program, now I know who I can reach out to and about capabilities at Crane. This will help me pull in experts to collaborate on future projects. The opportunity to grow outside of my specialty area is invaluable. It helps me understand the needs and point of view of a larger customer base. The program has also opened doors for future education and collaboration with Purdue and Cranfield researchers.”
Rankinen says learning alongside coworkers and motivated employees across the Department of Defense has been valuable.
“Networking with the other students has been wildly beneficial, especially as a remote employee,” says Rankinen. “The classes are filled with nice, driven, and enthusiastic people. One of the other benefits of the education is that we are empowering individuals to find answers to difficult problem sets.”
Future opportunities of the dual degree program
The program itself also offers employees access to individual courses per their interest without participating in the entire Master’s Degree program. Parsley says the program continues to expand, with a possible cohort announcement later this year.
“We currently have around 25 members of the cohort, and they get first dibs at participation in a given course,” says Parsley. “Then we open it up to the rest of the Command. These courses can also be taken as short course, for knowledge building in a certain area. So when we have Energetics related courses, we might see a surge in participation from our Specialized Munitions or Weapons Divisions; and when we have a Cyber course, perhaps from the C3I & Cyber or Expeditionary Electromagnetic Warfare Division.”
Ubelhor says he has taken advantage of these courses.
“This has been great at opening doors,” says Ubelhor. “The best part of the uniqueness of the program is it continues to develop and there are courses they continue to offer. Both universities are in ongoing discussions about organizing courses that are useful for what Crane does and what future Crane will do. They are always adapting to future workforce needs. Though I have completed the program, I am anxiously awaiting new course announcements as they come out.”
About NSWC Crane
NSWC Crane is a naval laboratory and a field activity of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) with mission areas in Expeditionary Warfare, Strategic Missions and Electronic Warfare. The warfare center is responsible for multi-domain, multi- spectral, full life cycle support of technologies and systems enhancing capability to today’s Warfighter.
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