Bionic legs and torpedoes would appear to hold little in common. However, Robert Hernandez applies lessons he learned designing prosthetic legs at the University of Rhode Island to America’s next generation of underwater weapons systems.
Hernandez, who holds a master’s (’10) and doctorate (’14) in electrical engineering from URI, spent his academic career studying computer hardware and algorithms that interface between a human nervous system and a prosthetic leg. He took that information and applied it at his day job as a torpedo systems engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I.
“Once you take the 1,000-foot view instead of the 10-foot view, you see how selection criteria for a computer architecture are not necessarily determined by the system, but instead by guidelines developed to compare the architectures against one another,” says Hernandez, who lives in Middletown, R.I.
The signal processing performed by URI’s neural-machine-interface is similar to many naval systems. The underlying concept is the same – take in lots of raw data, pre-process it then use classifications techniques to make a decision, whether it’s how far to move a prosthetic leg or the targeting of a weapon. Hernandez and URI researchers created guidelines that outline what computer hardware and algorithms work best given different goals.
For the Navy, Hernandez spearheads one or two naval projects while providing a hand to projects that run into issues. His Ph.D. is allowing him to take a research role designing next-generation systems and he often rides on naval vessels to see the systems up close. His research garnered national attention in 2014 when the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers bestowed on him its Hispanic in Technology Government Award, noting his innovative troubleshooting skills.
For his part, Hernandez says he likes a challenge and just getting to the warfare center proved one.
Hernandez grew up in a low-income section of Brooklyn, New York with his mother as the sole provider. Hernandez watched her almost sell their house twice to raise money and saw many neighbors unable to climb the socioeconomic ladder. But his mother encouraged him and he won a scholarship to attend Polytechnic University in Brooklyn in 1988.
Struggling to find a job in New York City, Hernandez applied to the Navy, which offered him an engineering position in Newport. He accepted in 1992 and planned to stay two years. To his surprise, he found a home in the Ocean State and fell in love with his job.
By 2008, he convinced his managers to let him pursue a graduate degree. At the time, URI operated the Center for Excellence for Undersea Technology and it offered the perfect marriage of electrical engineering and ocean technology. He enjoyed school so much he stayed for his Ph.D., ultimately graduating with a 4.0.
Hernandez says his academic career led him to appreciate the first-rate curriculum and dedication of engineering faculty, especially his mentors Jien-Chung Lo and Qing Yang.
He also saw the passion of students and these days helps recruit them to careers at the warfare center. Hernandez says he especially encourages young people who face challenging life situations like those that he experienced.
“Growing up in an inner-city neighborhood, I thought I was destined to be a failure,” he says. “I never expected I would be here. This is amazing. I’m doing something for our country and to protect democracy. I want kids to realize they have the opportunity to be something.”]]>
Morocco wants to be the gateway to the African economy. But even with its proximity to Europe, political stability and millions of dollars poured into infrastructure, it lacks one thing: engineers. Morocco’s education ministry wants to see at least 10,000 engineers graduate a year, but in a country where just 67 percent of people can read and write, meeting that goal has been a challenge.
Hicham Benjelloun wants to be one of those engineers. The Moroccan native traveled 3,500 miles to study at the University of Rhode Island seeking a world-class mechanical engineering education he could bring back home.
“Morocco is experiencing big development right now,” Benjelloun, 23, says. “Yet, if I had stayed in Morocco for college I would not have grown as much as I wanted and have at URI.”
Far from the soaring temperatures of Morocco, Benjelloun immersed himself in college and the United States. He adjusted to the cooler temperatures, explored the nearby beaches and joined intramural soccer. A lover of science and math, he enjoyed the engineering, calculus and physics courses. To fulfil a general education requirement he took French. That class would bring him halfway around the world again.
His French professor suggested Benjelloun join the International Engineering Program. Benjelloun, who already spoke French, Arabic and English, could benefit from the five-year program that offers simultaneous degrees in an engineering discipline and a foreign language. It also meant studying and interning abroad. Benjelloun didn’t hesitate. He added a French major and signed up for the program.
The program took him first to the University of Technology of Compiègne in France for a semester of study. Then he spent six months in Massy, France interning for CGG, an engineering firm specializing in geoscience that counts major energy companies among its clients.
Benjelloun worked with a team of engineers to develop piezoelectric sensors that work when analyzing conditions of rigid soil. The team tested more than 100 variations before settling on a design, which is pending a patent.
“It was the highlight of my academic career,” Benjelloun says. “I can’t wait to go back there and apply for a job.”
He’ll likely have little trouble passing a CGG job interview. His internship interview conducted in two languages – English and French – stretched more than four hours and involved three layers of management. At the end, the senior manager offered him the paid internship on the spot.
Benjelloun says he loves the work at CGG, the people and the chance to dig into international projects, maybe even in his home country. Eventually though he wants to return to Morocco armed with his international engineering experience.
“I always thought Morocco had the potential to be an amazing country,” Benjelloun says. “I feel blessed having had the opportunity to discover new places and expand my knowledge. I have Morocco and my parents to thank for giving me the foundation to do that and I want to give back just the little of what they gave me.”]]>
The College of Engineering Diversity Office provides funding to individual students participating in student organization activities and to student organizations that play a critical role in building community and enhancing the educational experience. In an effort to ensure that funds are allocated in a fair and equitable manner, the office accepts funding requests from students and minority student organizations in the early part of each academic semester. Student organization events that receive financial support from Diversity Office will propose activities that offer the greatest benefit.
To be eligible to receive funds as an individual, a student must hold official membership in the organization. Eligible organizations are those officially recognized by the College of Engineering and their national umbrella organizations (if applicable).
Because funding is limited, it is impossible to fully fund each request. Over the years, a set of criteria has been developed for the award of funds. Generally, the Office’s budget is reserved to support activities that could not go forward without the funding. General categories of such activities include speaker events open to the entire engineering community, community service projects, activities likely to enhance the educational experience of members of the student organization and/or a fairly significant sector of the minority engineering community, activities which provide opportunities for students to develop professional skills, unusual opportunities to learn more about the profession, and activities which promote a greater interaction, in a professional context, among members of different engineering school organizations or with alumni.
Other considerations include the size of the organization, its total anticipated budget for the academic year, amount of carry-over funds from the previous year, and the Diversity funds allocation for the year at issue. Given the limited funding, money for food, honoraria, recreational activities, and travel have become increasingly limited. None of the allocated funds may be used to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Educational Programming – Funding preference will be given to panels and speaker events that further education outside the classroom, help students make informed decisions about career choices, and provide opportunities for students to share aspects of their culture and life experience with the engineering college community. Social mixers and networking programs will receive financial support on a limited basis.
Competitions – Engineering teams are eligible for financial assistance for registration fees, and reasonable travel and accommodation expenses. Competitors are required to report the results of the competition to the Minority Student Recruitment and Retention Coordinator.
Student Travel – Limited funds are available for reasonable travel expenses to conferences, national meetings, and special events. Students are expected to seek supplemental support and sponsorship from other sources.
Registration Fees – Limited funds are available for registration fees associated with conferences, retreats, etc. Student participants are required to share what they learn with their respective organizations and the engineering school community.
Speaker Expenses – Depending on availability, funds may be available for reasonable honoraria, travel, accommodation, and meal expenses incurred by out-of-town speakers.
Organizational Meetings/Food – Depending on availability, funds may be awarded for expenses related to organizational recruitment meetings. Limited funds may also be available for reasonable expenses related to lunch events. University funds may not be used directly or indirectly for the purchase of alcoholic beverages. Funds raised by student organizations may be used to defray the cost of hosting events.
Minority organizations that wish to receive full consideration for funding from the Minority Student Recruitment and Retention Coordinator complete the online funding request form by the designated deadline each fall term.
Funding Fall Deadline – November 15 – Funding requests are limited to events and activities. All funds awarded during this cycle are taken into account during the academic year budgeting process.
Funding Spring Deadline– March 15 – Funding requests is limited to events and activities. All funds awarded during this cycle are taken into account during the academic year budgeting process.
Funding will be limited and based on availability.]]>
Look at Douglas-Prawl’s resume and it’s no surprise why America’s top technology companies are vying for him. The University of Rhode Island computer engineering student developed two apps, interned for Electric Boat, garners outstanding grades and serves as president of the National Society of Black Engineers URI chapter. He also works at the University’s computer Help Desk and plays rugby.
“I like advancing myself and moving forward,” Douglas-Prawl, 20, says. “Being involved is a way to do that.”
Arriving at URI in September 2011, Douglas-Prawl found a home in engineering. The courses focusing on the intersection between computer hardware and software appealed to the Stamford, Conn. resident. His professors challenged him and the freshman Engineering Living and Learning Community provided him a support group and circle of friends.
Douglas-Prawl soon found himself fascinated by the rise of mobile computing and wearable devices. By junior year, he was teaching himself to code mobile apps for Google’s Android platform. One app calculates restaurant tips. The other allows users to access all their cloud-stored files in one place regardless of whether they are stored on Google Drive, Dropbox or similar service.
For Douglas-Prawl, it’s only the beginning.
“Everyone uses computers so if you invent a new thing everyone is going to use it,” Douglas-Prawl says. “Just knowing that you might invent the next big thing, that’s the fun part.”
Douglas-Prawl started toying with computers around age 9. Frustrated by the slow Internet speeds of his family’s dial-up connection, Douglas-Prawl began looking under the hood. By age 13, he was building computers. By high school, he was attending the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford.
It was at the academy that Douglas-Prawl found URI. During an engineering college fair his sophomore year, his guidance counselor introduced him to Charles Watson, the College of Engineering’s minority student recruitment and retention coordinator. After speaking with Watson, Douglas-Prawl put the school on his radar. When he saw Watson again his junior year, he liked what he heard about the engineering program and the beautiful campus. He applied, won a University Fund Grant and matriculated.
Four years later, he’s on the cusp of graduating. When he does, he’ll be the first in his family to graduate college. He’s currently waiting to hear back from Microsoft and Google.
If it doesn’t work out, Douglas-Prawl has a fallback: bootstrap a tech startup and have it acquired. If his four years at URI are any indication of his future success, that shouldn’t be hard.]]>
With funding from the URI Water Resources Center, Bradshaw and his students conducted a series of tests at the 3,000-foot-long, 109-foot-high dam, which parallels Scituate Avenue (Route 12) in Scituate and is operated and maintained by the Providence Water Supply Board. Their analysis thus far suggests that the 88-year-old dam could withstand, with minimal damage, the region’s most likely earthquake scenarios, which include a magnitude 5 earthquake nearby the dam and a magnitude 6.8 earthquake 125 kilometers away.
“Back when it was built, engineers may not have had the technology we have now, but they certainly had the knowledge and the quality of workmanship, and we’re seeing their impressive structures,” Bradshaw said.
The URI professor’s study was the first time the Gainer Dam had been evaluated for its resilience to earthquakes. When Bradshaw and graduate students Christopher Norton of West Haven, Conn., and Bivian Reyes of the Dominican Republic approached the agency about conducting the study, officials saw it as a rare opportunity.
“Looking at what’s downstream and the significance of this dam, we thought it would be prudent for Dr. Bradshaw and his students to conduct their analysis,” said Peter LePage, senior manager of engineering at the Providence Water Supply Board.
Agency officials and Bradshaw’s team were especially concerned about the potential for liquefaction in the soils comprising the dam. The shaking from an earthquake can cause loose saturated sands to lose their strength. This scenario could cause the dam to breach.
Bradshaw and his students could not easily bore into the dam to check the density of the soil. Instead, they turned to Gopu Potty, URI associate research professor of ocean engineering, who had perfected a system of using ground sensors called geophones and a heavy weight to eliminate the need for soil samples. By setting up the geophones and striking the ground with a 100-pound weight, they could monitor the vibrations traveling through the earth to analyze the soil conditions.
Bradshaw said the method holds promise for dam owners to screen for possible problems and learn if further soil testing and analyses are needed. The geophones and computer analysis are less intrusive and disruptive to the dam.
“You can think of it as a good first step,” Bradshaw said. “If the results look good, we may not need to do more.”
The research will serve as a blueprint for future studies at the Gainer Memorial Dam, as well as at least one doctoral thesis at URI.]]>
You can complete the application form by following this link:
Application form for Summer Engineering Program 2015
If you have any questions, please email the program director: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest in the program.]]>