At the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, R.I., the U.S. Navy develops its most advanced and classified underwater technologies. Since 1985, scores of University of Rhode Island students and alumni have played a key role in that research thanks to engineering Dean Emeritus Thomas Kim.
In 1985 Kim helped the URI College of Engineering win a little-known contract with the Navy that placed URI in charge of recruiting and screening students from around the country for paid internships at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The program has steered more than 2,000 students – most of them from URI – to internships. And when they graduate, the Navy pays attention.
One in four engineers at the warfare center hold URI degrees and many completed the internship program. And former interns who interview for careers in the private sector often lean on their internship experience.
“NUWC is the place to go if you like underwater technology,” Kim says.
Kim should know. He has spent the last 21 years as director of the internship program, forging connections with military personnel and Navy officials and advising students.
Under Kim’s tutelage, the program has flourished. Each year more than 300 applicants from around the country apply for a coveted spot. After careful review by Kim, his staff and the Navy, only 30 to 80 earn internships. Once on the base, interns find themselves immersed in crafting technology for America’s next-generation warships and submarines.
Six years ago, the Navy tasked intern Akin “Yemi” Akinsinde, now an engineer at the base, with reducing drag on torpedoes. For a URI college senior more accustomed to classrooms, the Navy’s lab outfitted with water tanks and advanced instrumentation proved an engineer’s playground.
“It was fun,” he says. “After classes at URI I would just drive down here and lose myself in this building.”
It was just the kind of experience that Kim envisioned for engineering students when he bid on the Navy contract. His colleagues say Kim has always sought to provide a broader experience for students, whether as a professor, later as dean of engineering or now as director of the internship program. And each time Kim appears on the cusp of retiring, he finds a new way to stay involved.
“What keeps me coming back is to see the success of my students and the love of my staff,” Kim says.
One engineering graduate recognized Kim’s dedication by anonymously donating $1 million to a scholarship fund that Kim started as dean in 1995 with $5,000 of his own money. The alumnus said his one course with Kim inspired him to offer assistance so others could gain the same experience.
For Kim, providing such opportunities has been a lifetime in the making. As a young man growing up in South Korea, he embraced his mathematics and physics courses.
“I was good in math and always fixing things and had natural curiosity,” Kim says. “It was the satisfaction of accomplishing something that got to me.”
Kim came to URI in 1968 as a professor of mechanical engineering and served as dean of engineering from 1991 to 2002. During those 44 years on campus, Kim racked up quite a few accomplishments. But he’s not done yet.
“I like interacting with students and problem solving,” Kim says. “And there are still lots of problems in need of solutions.”
Apply for a NUWC internship online.