Sandia LabNews

'An experience I’ll never forget . . .' - US Coast Guard Academy interns reflect on a summer of immersive work at Sandia


US COAST GUARD cadet interns with mentors and program coordinators at Sandia.

It may seem an unlikely collaboration: a desert-bound national laboratory hosting cadets from the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA).

But look a little deeper and a common theme emerges: The US Coast Guard is the world’s oldest life-saving organization; it has a long and proud tradition of keeping America safe. And so does Sandia.

Along with similar goals of service to the nation, the institutions share a common engineering foundation: The USCGA curriculum is largely engineering-centric and Sandia is the nation’s largest engineering laboratory.

With these common interests in mind, in 2005 Sandia launched a summer internship program to bring USCGA cadets to the Labs to work on science and engineering projects. This past summer, six USCGA cadets participated in the program at Sandia, including one cadet who worked at Sandia/

California, a first in the history of the six-year partnership. The projects are anything but make-work; they are challenging, relevant, real-world, hands-on projects designed to stretch the skills and increase the knowledge of the USCGA cadets. The program, matching the students with Sandia researchers, encourages a mentoring relationship that enhances the cadets’ technical and professional growth.

The NNSA-sponsored Military Academies Collaboration (MAC) program, coordinated by Staci Dorsey (0215) and Sarah Low (8529), has been such a success with the USCGA that plans are now in the works to partner with the nation’s other military academies.

Coordination efforts are currently underway with NNSA, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory to bring in cadets from all the military academies to the three laboratories for internship positions in the summer of 2012. A Sandia Daily News notice will be issued in December to solicit projects for the summer 2012 MAC Internship Program.

This year’s summer interns were cadets Andrew Breen, Christopher Monacelli, Thomas Kane, Wryan Webb, Brian Gracey, and Alexander Lloyd (Sandia/

California). The cadets, selected for the internship by the USCGA based on their academic performance and leadership skills, spent the first half of the summer on a Coast Guard boat assignment and the remaining six weeks at Sandia.

This year, the six interns worked on six different projects across multiple strategic management units and divisions, including:

  • The DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manipulation Hardware program  — Curt Salisbury (6533), mentor
  • Study in New Materials for High-Capacity Batteries — Timothy Lambert (6124), mentor
  • Alaska Red Team Threat Assessment —Tim Tooman (8123), mentor
  • Non-Destructive Inspection Testing — Dennis Roach and Mike Bode (6620), mentors
  • StrongLinks Project, Melissa Martinez (2616), mentor
  • Hexacopter UAV Project — Dan Small and Dave Novick (6533), mentors

Shortly before heading back to New London, Conn., to resume their academy life, the six cadet interns shared their thoughts with the Lab News about their summer experience at Sandia. Here are their comments:

Andrew Breen

I really enjoyed my time at Sandia. I had the pleasure of working with Curt Salisbury (6533) on the DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manipulation project. My task was to design a data glove to control a robotic hand, a task that had its challenges, but has been rewarding. During the six weeks I spent at the Labs, I was very grateful to Sandia for the opportunity to work with and around so many smart people, not only giving me hands-on experience in engineering and design, but also an appreciation for how different government agencies, like the Coast Guard and Sandia, can interact to benefit mission readiness. My time at Sandia is something I certainly will not forget, and I am excited to take the experience and knowledge I have gained here into my Coast Guard career.

Alexander Lloyd

In the short six weeks I spent working at Sandia, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to learn about the history of Sandia as well as its current role in national security and technological development.  I had the privilege of taking tours of most of the on-site facilities showcasing current projects and was able to attend seminars and talk to experts about current issues facing the United States. As a future Coast Guard officer, the project assigned to me in the field of homeland security hit close to home, serving as an eye-opener of the real threats that face our country. Preparing for a career in the military, I hope to look back on this experience as a positive one, knowing that some of the brightest minds in America here at Sandia and the other labs are constantly working on new technologies to keep our nation ahead.

Chris Monacelli

The six weeks I spent working at Sandia were an experience like no other. This was a time for me to really expand my knowledge in numerous fields of study. I think I have learned just as much in six weeks here as I have in three years at the academy. I don’t think I will ever get the chance to work with and learn from so many bright minds in a single place anytime soon. Professionally, I think this internship has prepared me for a career outside the Coast Guard. It also has helped me get one step further in my Coast Guard career because I have worked with the personnel who train Coast Guard aircraft inspectors. Overall, the experience I got at Sandia is one that I will never forget.

Brian Gracey

My time at Sandia went by way too fast. The six weeks at the laboratory were the most exciting, rewarding, and creative weeks of my engineering career. Under the guidance of David Novick and Dan Small (both 6533), I worked on the Hexacopter, a remote-controlled, six-rotor copter with surveillance and autonomous capabilities. Through this work, I expanded my knowledge of SolidWorks and learned a lot about rapid prototyping and concept development, skills that will certainly help me in my future. Sandians are a truly unique breed and I am proud to say I worked alongside so many intelligent and truly awesome people. The amount of respect and teamwork displayed on a daily basis was inspiring. I look forward to working with Sandia in my future as a Coast Guard officer. My only regret about my summer experience at Sandia is that it had to come to an end. However, my engineering experiences at Sandia have me excited about my career and ready to return to the Coast Guard Academy for my senior year. Thank you to all those at Sandia for providing me with a unforgettable summer experience.

Thomas John Kane

My time at Sandia has been an experience that helped me grow as a person and as an engineer. Being accustomed to the military environment of the Coast Guard, seeing how an elite research facility operates has helped me learn about how true scientific research is being done. I worked with a research group on finding new materials for high-capacity batteries. I learned a ton about batteries and battery science, a subject in which I had little prior knowledge. I think there are few places in America where you can find as many smart, dedicated people as you do at Sandia. Being in that environment alone was a very rewarding experience. I know that the resources I gained both personally and professionally during my time at Sandia will give me a tremendous advantage as my peers and I move into our senior year at the academy.

Wryan Webb

Working at Sandia this summer was a very rewarding six weeks. I was attached to Center 2600, working with Sandians in their efforts to monitor and evaluate the integrity of Stronglinks. The experience was somewhat challenging, as the world of Stronglinks is an intensive one. Gaining the general level of competence to even participate in an intelligent conversation took some time. However, since then, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from many incredible people, which has been beneficial, both in terms of professional development and in the personal relationships I’ve established with many impressive Sandians. This short-term internship program has been one of the most worthwhile uses of summer I’ve ever had and I will definitely be recommending it to other cadets back at the US Coast Guard Academy.