Student's Path Exemplifies Success Via Warfare Center
by U.S. Navy Teri Carnicelli
Naval Surface Warfare Center
June 13, 2020
California native Brianda Plascencia’s interactions with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) have been nothing short of transformative.
Brianda Plascencia, second from right, works with a team from NSWC PHD to test mixed-reality software for tracking small vessels and unmanned aerial vehicles during the Advanced Navy Technology Exercise (ANTX) and Coastal Trident 2019, held in Port Hueneme on July 31, 2019. Plascencia, a Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program participant, accompanied the team aboard the Motor Vessel Independence, a research ship owned and operated by the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center and ported at Naval Base Ventura County. (U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center courtesy photo)
The recent Ventura College graduate has gone from working as a summer intern at the command to a part-time employee to becoming one of fewer than 300 students nationwide to recently receive the prestigious Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship.
Plascencia’s experience is a roadmap for other local young adults interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields to follow in partnership with the Navy, said Ramon Flores, STEM coordinator at NSWC PHD.
Plascencia first came aboard NSWC PHD through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NRIEP), which ran June through early August 2019. The 10-week program provides an opportunity for college students majoring in STEM fields to participate in research at a Department of Navy (DON) laboratory.
“The goals of NREIP are to encourage participating college students to pursue science and engineering careers, to further education via mentoring by laboratory personnel and their participation in research, and to make them aware of DON research and technology efforts, which can lead to employment within the DON,” Flores explained.
Plascencia heard about NRIEP from a friend she met in the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program at Ventura College.
“What caught my attention was that the interns would be receiving one-on-one mentorship, which is the reason why I was interested in applying to the program,” Plascencia said.
Data Science Staff Researcher Sara Dooley supervised and mentored the computer science major. At first, Plascencia was nervous, she said, believing she didn’t know enough to do the job. But Dooley quickly put her at ease and walked her through her work responsibilities.
“I was assigned to work on a semantic search tool prototype,” Plascencia said. “I had to document everything that I did for the next person taking on the project to reference after I left.
“The most enjoyable part about working on this project was seeing my project progress throughout my internship and brainstorming with my mentor,” she added.
In fact, she enjoyed her NRIEP experience so much that she applied for the command’s STEM Student Employment Program (SSEP).
“SSEP is a flexible part-time or full-time student employment program for undergraduate and graduate degree students enrolled in STEM majors,” Flores said.
NSWC PHD accepts applications year-round, and students must continue as STEM majors at colleges or universities during the program. Program participants must also work in STEM-related jobs for at least 16 weeks (640 hours).
“I was interested in applying to the command’s SSEP because I really enjoyed the project that I worked on during the summer, and the experience of consistently learning from my mentors,” Plascencia said.
Dooley also helped her fill out the SSEP application, and later notified Plascencia she was accepted into the program and would start working at the command in January 2020.
Plascencia currently works in the command’s technology office under Dooley —who stepped up once again to help her fill out the more extensive SMART Scholarship application.
“During my NREIP internship there was a presentation given to all the interns about various programs, including the SMART Scholarship,” Plascencia said. “The application required three letters of recommendations, so I did get some help with filling out this portion of the application.”
Dooley wrote one of the three letters of recommendation, along with Plascencia’s computer science professor at Ventura College and the school’s student government supervisor, who worked with Plascencia when she was vice president of the Associate Students of Ventura College.
And once again, it was Dooley who informed Plascencia last month—in advance of the official email—she was one of a select group of students nationwide to share in the $41 million SMART Scholarship disbursement.
“She has really helped me out tremendously,” Plascencia said.
“Brianda is a smart, dedicated computer scientist and an accomplished student,” Dooley said. “I’m proud that she was able to receive the SMART Scholarship award. I was an NREIP intern-turned SMART scholar, so seeing these programs investing in the next generation is a blessing.
“Dr. Flores has been a great help in creating a path for our NREIP interns at NSWC PHD so they can take advantage of the educational opportunities that the Navy can offer and allow our command to recruit some amazing talent,” Dooley added.
Students who are awarded highly-competitive SMART Scholarships receive benefits including full tuition, annual stipends, book and health insurance allowances and summer internships, among other assistance.
SMART scholarships are awarded for a specific time based on the expectation students will earn their degrees, and can range from a minimum of one and a half years to a maximum of five years per award, depending on degree requirements. Students are required to pay back the scholarship by working with a DOD sponsoring facility for as many years as the scholarship.
For Plascencia and her family, the SMART Scholarship is life-changing.
“I will be transferring to a four-year college this academic school year, and my brother will be transferring the next one,” she said. “My parents want to help pay for our education but paying two academic bills is definitely a big shoe to fill. The scholarship will help relieve some of this financial burden.”
Plascencia has enrolled in online courses at California State University Channel Islands for the fall; however, she has also applied to the University of California, San Diego and will attend there if accepted.
After graduating and working fulltime for the Navy, Plascencia said she hopes to continue in the work she began at NSWC PHD, “researching tools and building prototypes the Navy could benefit from.”
“What I like most about working for the Navy is that we are all working collectively to contribute to the well-being of those defending our freedom on the frontlines,” she said.
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