Ocean engineering

Faith Leonard ocean engineering major

Ocean engineering major Faith Leonard ’22 holds survey equipment aboard a cutter dredge boat during her recent internship in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation

When she enrolled at URI, Faith Leonard ‘22 wasn’t sure what area of engineering to pursue. As a first-year student, she followed the chemical engineering program, but the following summer, she began to lean toward ocean engineering.

At the time, URI offered one of only eight ocean engineering programs in the country, Leonard said. That sealed the deal. “URI allows a lot of flexibility the first two years of engineering so the switch was easy to make.”

Hands-on learning

Ocean engineering has proved to be a good fit. “My favorite part is the hands-on experience we get. The Bay Campus boasts three wave tanks, multiple labs, and multiple research vessels for students to make use of,” Leonard said.

“My favorite thing so far has been taking one of our boats out to complete a side scan sonar lab, where students were given the chance to map the seafloor of the Narragansett Bay and turn that data into a mosaic.

“For me, real-time, hands-on learning is where I do best, so I learn a ton from all of these opportunities.”

The real thing

Come summer, Leonard will have more hands-on experience as she begins her second internship this year with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation.

Leonard spent her winter break in Wilmington, North Carolina, interning with Great Lakes Dredge & Dock on a project that involved a channel deepening and a beach replenishment. The project started when Leonard first arrived.

“Because I came onto the project at the beginning, I was able to help out with the entire start-up process,” she said.

In fact, during her winter break, Leonard worked seven days a week in a rotation with the engineers on the project. One of her first tasks was to create the maps and preliminary designs for the project, which required going on one of the survey boats to map the seafloor and the depth of the channel, as well as mapping the beach.

“I conducted hydro surveys using multi-beam and single-beam sonar; I worked with virtual reference stations using a global positioning system and a global navigation satellite system, and I used information provided to us by the Army Corps of Engineers. I learned so much in such a short amount of time,” Leonard said.

“This summer I am returning to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock to complete their summer internship program, which offers more rotations than the winter one,” she said. Right now, Leonard is not sure of the location. It is probably somewhere in the South, she said. And, wherever it is, she said she’s ready. 

Finding internships

Leonard discovered her current internship—and others—at a College of Engineering career fair last fall.

“The person who originally interviewed me from Great Lakes was not only a URI graduate but also a former member of the URI engineering fraternity Theta Tau, which I belong to,” said Leonard. Once on the worksite, Leonard realized how many of the engineers graduated from URI. “It gave us some common ground right off the bat,” said Leonard. “My mentors were able to relate to the classes that I’ve taken, which prepared me for the internship.”

What’s next?

Leonard, who will graduate in May 2022, has already secured her next winter break internship. Her long-term goal: working in the defense industry.

“Short-term, I plan on sticking with dredging for a few years after graduation,” she said. “These companies provide opportunities for me to become a project engineer—running one of the projects I currently work on—and to push myself to learn more and gain more experience.

“The schedule is also a huge draw for me as rotations will allow me to continue to travel and see the world.”