Five Questions With: Amanda Costa

Amanda Costa, director of Rhode Island operations for Navatek Ltd., said the company works to not only design naval ships but also develop the next generation of designers. For years, the South Kingstown company has worked to bring the world of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, to students and showed them how the subjects are used in real life.

PBN: When and why did Navatek begin working to develop the next workforce in naval ship design?

COSTA: Navatek has worked to develop the next generation of the naval workforce since its inception in 1979. Starting with our corporate office in Honolulu, we have worked closely with local schools to support research efforts, STEM outreach events [such as] RobotX, and provided many internship opportunities.

Since opening our Rhode Island office, we have hired over a dozen engineering graduates from the University of Rhode Island who are performing cutting-edge research. … Navatek provides a first look at the industry to STEM students to demonstrate the essential role science and technology play in ship design, systems integration, and new concepts and prototyping.

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PBN: Explain how the FLEET program works.

COSTA: FLEET – Future Leaders in Experience-based Engineering and Technology – is an engineering video game at its core … developed to provide middle and high school students the opportunity to explore the principles of buoyancy, stability and maneuverability with a hands-on virtual experience. Students start in the dry dock to design, build and outfit their ship for the mission at hand. After undergoing a basic stability test and performing sea trials for iterative design changes, they embark on a mission to be completed efficiently for a high score.

FLEET is … a tool for learning engineering basics and the trade-offs in designing vessels for the naval ship-design industry. It is accompanied by a curriculum that teaches the scientific forces, concepts of arrangements and hydrodynamics in a way that aligns with school standards.

PBN: What is the current snapshot status of the boat-design industry in Rhode Island in terms of strengths, challenges and innovations?

COSTA: I believe the state’s marine industry will continue to strengthen and broaden, bringing additional engineering and design talent. Rhode Island’s boat-design and boat-building industry is robust, as the state has historically enjoyed a strong boat-design and -building presence for recreational designs due to the demands of its coastal location.

The sailing team challenging for the next America’s Cup recently announced plans to construct several state-of-the-art racing boats in the state. The University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering is also at the cutting edge of research in boat design and construction, including the ability for students to concentrate their studies on naval science and technology. Finally, Rhode Island hosts contractors in the defense industry who are building tools and developing new ideas for design of the next generation naval fleet.

The [U.S.] Navy presence in the state keeps the industry inspired and engaged, and Navatek continues its strong support of a variety of the Navy’s research initiatives.

PBN: How many students would you say have come through the Navatek STEM student initiatives so far?

COSTA: Over 1,500 students have been exposed to our FLEET program. Our Virtual SeaPerch initiative has been played by 200 students at the National Seaperch Challenges in 2016 and 2018. Navatek supported the University of Rhode Island robotics team in the 2014 RoboBoat Challenge with design and fabrication of new hull forms, and Navatek personnel served as mentors for a group of high school students competing in the 2015 KidWind challenge. And, at the most recent RobotX competition in 2016, 150 students participated. At this year’s RobotX competition, we expect over 200 students. We hope to continue to grow our audience and someday become established in schools nationwide.

PBN: How might boat design attract a new workforce in ways other kinds of engineering may not?

COSTA: Boat design requires more than a single branch of engineering. Boats are used for an endless array of tasks, thus requiring more disciplines to contribute to the design process and making it a more exciting and innovative field. The industry requires people with skills in mathematics, architecture, creative design and all engineering disciplines – from marine to mechanical to electrical to civil to systems and so on. It takes art and creativity to comprise innovative solutions. The Navy is always looking for the next design contributions that will enhance the efficiency of its ships.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.