College of Engineering partners with ocean technology company for internships, research

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KINGSTON, R.I. – October 7, 2013 – When ocean technology firm Navatek, Ltd. opens its first East Coast office this fall in South Kingstown, it will be easy to spot University of Rhode Island engineering alumni. Half the staff graduated from the University with engineering degrees. Navatek executives say URI is providing a critical pipeline of engineers to the Hawaii-based company.

“We chose South Kingstown as our East Coast home in large part for its proximity to the University of Rhode Island,” Navatek Chief Scientist David Kring said. “We’re eager to collaborate with the University to develop a future workforce and a continuing pipeline of new ideas valuable to the defense and alternative energy sectors.”

By the end of the year Navatek will employ eight URI engineering graduates at its offices in the Palisades mill complex and launch a paid internship program for URI engineering students. The University and Navatek formalized the partnership last week during an event attended by President David M. Dooley and College of Engineering Dean Raymond M. Wright.

Graduates and interns will tackle research projects crucial to the U.S. Navy and developers of renewable energy systems such as wind turbines. The defense industry already plays an outsized role in Rhode Island’s economy, employing some 16,000 people directly or indirectly. Demand for renewable energy expertise is expected to rise as Providence-based Deepwater Wind prepares to construct two wind farms in waters off the state’s coast.

Aligning the University’s curriculum to match the needs of Rhode Island’s economy and spur companies to locate in the Ocean State has long been the focus of President Dooley.

“Our partnership with Navatek provides real-world, realistic and challenging learning opportunities for students; innovative research possibilities; and another strong relationship with private industry,” said Dooley. “Importantly, it exemplifies the University’s success in translating outstanding research and outstanding education into economic growth.” The president also noted that an increasing number of partnerships such as this are being established through the University’s new Business Engagement Center.

The new partnership with Navatek also boosts an effort by the University to provide practical learning experiences. Such hands-on experience better positions graduates for careers while shortening the time it takes for employers like Navatek to train new employees. The University estimates that 80 percent of its engineering students hold at least one experiential learning experience.

With Navatek, real world experience will also come to the classroom. Under the partnership agreement signed, the company plans to send its engineers into URI classrooms to serve as mentors for senior capstone design projects, which pair students with a company to solve real engineering challenges. Students and Navatek researchers also plan to partner on specific research projects, and the company will allow the University to utilize its low-speed wind tunnel, the only privately owned one in Rhode Island.

Ocean Engineering Professor Stéphan Grilli, who was instrumental in arranging the partnership with Navatek, said he anticipates many synergies, especially in the areas of researching computational and experimental fluid dynamics.

“I envision many benefits,” Grilli said. “Our program trains students in skills that Navatek needs and our research interests nicely complement each other. Plus, having company mentors present in the classroom is a beneficial educational experience for our students.”