University of South Florida


A student holds wires from an engineering kit next to a computer with coding on the screen.

Deziree Price, an intern at the USF Institute of Applied Engineering, works on a Basic Internet of Things Starter Kit (BISKit).

Hundreds of USF students land internships, secure employment through the university’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense

By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

Since its launch in 2018, the USF Institute of Applied Engineering’s (IAE) internship program has grown from four students to more than 700 placed with agencies that support the U.S. Department of Defense, especially U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

“We’re at a point where we’re scaling these programs,” said Sam Tromly, associate director of programs at the IAE. “The goal is to create a viable workforce pipeline for the Tampa Bay area.”

Through its five-year, $85 million contract with SOCOM, the IAE is helping address global and national security issues in fields such as autonomous systems, human performance, transportation, cybersecurity, data analytics and sensor technologies.

The IAE intern pool has quickly become a go-to source for recruitment efforts from companies including SpaceX, NASA and Raytheon, with many students receiving employment offers before graduation and national security clearance. Much of that success is due to the IAE’S ability to customize programs based on a contractor’s needs and assistance in identifying students with the necessary skillsets.

“We’re able to implement a program that is turnkey for the customer, taking a lot of the burden off of them so they can just enjoy the benefits of what the students provide to their organizations,” said Darren Schumacher, president and CEO of the IAE.

Innovation incubator SOFWERX was the IAE’s first partner agency and continues to onboard at least a dozen new USF student-interns each semester. It has since hired six former interns – one later becoming supervisor of the department where they interned. While the projects are largely for engineering students, SOFWERX has recruited students with skills in social media, communications and graphic design.

“The internship program is fantastic. Every semester we determine what SOCOM requires us to do and who we need on our staff, and USF has been very flexible in what disciplines we need and there’s not a lot of lag time,” said Anthony Pettengill, deputy director of SOFWERX. “We don’t need someone full time, so filling those kinds of positions with interns has helped us increase our reach and increase the products that we provide to our clients as well.”

In addition to creating external internship programs, the IAE also opens its doors to students, such as current intern and accelerated master’s student Deziree Price. Studying industrial engineering and engineering management, Price was brought on in May 2022 to work on the Basic Internet of Things Starter Kit, or BISKit, a module-oriented educational program for military personnel.

“The internship program allows students to collaborate with experienced engineers and receive an amazing hands-on work experience,” Price said. “Since interning at the IAE, I have developed strong teamwork skills, a higher level of knowledge about STEM topics, effective communication, project management and so much more. In starting my career, I will be able to confidently display the experience I've gained from the IAE.”

One of the three ARCE-1 satellites sits beside a permanent marker for scale.

One of the three ARCE-1 satellites sits beside a permanent marker for scale. While in orbit, it will communicate with the other two ARCE-1 satellites and the USF Institute for Applied Engineering. [Photo Courtesy: USF Institute for Applied Engineering]

Yehia Helwa graduated from USF this past summer with a master’s degree in electrical engineering and accepted a job offer from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Washington D.C. where his first rotation will involve working on autonomy and navigational algorithms for airplanes. Helwa, a Draper Scholar, interned at the IAE as a part of the student-driven project, “Articulated Reconnaissance and Communications Expedition (ARCE-1),” funded by SOCOM. The task was to build and test a network of SmallSats, a miniature class of cubic satellites around the size of a softball, to then launch into space aboard SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare mission.

“The Institute of Applied Engineering helped prepare me for a career in space and it’s some of the coolest stuff you can work on in the Tampa area,” Helwa said. “I really enjoyed the experience because they were supportive of me learning new things and didn’t make me do a lot of grunt work.”

According to Schumacher, "Both of these ‘interns' exemplify what we are trying to achieve at the IAE. While we are always sad to see them go, we are thrilled to see our interns and graduates join such prestigious organizations.”

To learn more about how to work with the USF Institute for Applied Engineering in support of the Department of Defense, click here. To donate in support of the institute’s student programs and services, click here.

A person walks in front of the USF Institute of Applied Engineering location inside the University Mall.

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