College of Engineering News Room

Engineering Students Attend NASEC 2019

By Brad Stager

Traveling to professional conferences, such as the ninth annual Naval Academy Science and Engineering Conference, provides College of Engineering students with opportunities unavailable in their classroom studies.

Students attending NASEC 2019 were able to expand their knowledge and skills, as well as network with their peers and technology leaders in government and industry.

itze and josue at NASEC

USF Mechanical Engineering senior Josue Arandia Espinosa (left) and USF Civil and Envirionmental Engineering (CEE) senior Itze "Ally" Kenney (right) attended NASEC 2019 with CEE professor Maya Trotz.

The theme for the conference, Oceans: Exploration, Conservation, and Extreme Events, highlighted issues facing those who navigate, live near, or use the planet’s waterways. Speakers and panel discussions covered a wide range of topics reflecting the varied interests of those attending, including the group from USF, which consisted of seniors Josue Arandia Espinosa and Itze "Ally" Kenney, and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) professor Maya Trotz.

Speakers and discussion panels that included experts from industry such as Lockheed Martin, government entities like the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Navy addressed the conference’s topics. One of the keynote presentations was delivered by Mark Abbott, president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

itze, josue, abbott

NASEC 2019 provided engineering students like Kenney (left) and Arandia Espinosa (right) with unique networking opportunities with industry experts like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute President Mark Abbott (center).


For Arandia Espinosa, who is the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Outstanding Undergraduate for the fall 2019 semester, NASEC was an opportunity to learn from others with a mutual interest in soft robotics and was also a chance to increase his knowledge of what experts and students in other fields had to offer.

"The NASEC Conference was one of the most positive and engaging experiences so far in my undergraduate career," he said. "The guest speakers were all extremely knowledgeable in their subject matter and gave very interesting presentations. I also really enjoyed participating in STEM discussions with other undergraduate students from a variety of academic backgrounds. Every person that I met inspired me to be a better learner and engineer."

Arandia Espinosa works with USF Mechanical Engineering professor David Murphy in researching the locomotive characteristics of pteropods, known as sea butterflies, to create robots that can move through water and air.

While the world’s oceans and seas may be at the forefront of Naval Academy activities such as NASEC, Kenney, who is studying civil and environmental engineering, says the inclusive tone of the conference was established from the beginning and made it easy for her to see how her work in wastewater issues related to the conference’s agenda.

"As it was stated by the first speaker, Superintendent Sean Buck, it is crucial to have diversity in thoughts and backgrounds when attempting to solve complex problems," she said. "This is something that I will carry with me into my personal, professional and academic life. I believe this will help me achieve my goals as well as help me create new ones."

The conference also provided Kenney an opportunity to present her research poster which details her experience with CEE Professor Sarina Ergas, surveying and evaluating wastewater handling facilities at schools in Ghana as part of a National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Undergraduates project.

One outcome that Kenney’s research promotes as a result of improved wastewater handling is the recovery of natural resources from human waste that local communities could use.

itze's poster

Kenney was able to present her NSF International Research Experience project to other students and professionals at the conference.


Besides learning about relevant technology that scientists and engineers are using to solve water-related problems, students were able to engage in discussions and activities that focused on the human aspects of issues like pollution and climate change, according to Trotz.

“While students’ technological interests prevailed, they were all overwhelmingly grounded in some environmental driver and the need for a more sustainable world, and that is really refreshing,” she said. Trotz directs Strong Coasts, a Collaborative National Research Traineeship program, which focuses on sustainability of coastal communities.

For young engineers and scientists like Kenney and Arandia Espinosa, NASEC provided a way to see how their individual efforts can contribute to a greater whole. According to Kenney, attending NASEC provided validation that other students and professionals share her vision of engineering a better future for everyone.

“Through my work as an environmental engineer, I hope to contribute to a sustainable world where both humans and the environment can thrive," she said. "This is what motivates me to do what I do. NASEC showed me that there are others working on achieving the same goal through similar dedication but through different paths.”

Kenney is also active with USF’s Engineers Without Borders chapter and is the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Outstanding Undergraduate for the fall 2019 semester.