The Columns

Interns at Work: Thomas Pritchard ’16 Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, Natick, MA

— by on September 5th, 2016

Thomas Pritchard '16

“I was attracted to this internship because it would help me understand what it’s like to be an engineer in the working world. Also I liked the fact that the work I would be doing would have a positive impact on some of the men and women in our military.”

What attracted you to this internship? I was attracted to this internship because it would help me understand what it’s like to be an engineer in the working world. Also I liked the fact that the work I would be doing would have a positive impact on some of the men and women in our military.

How did you learn about it? My grandpa’s friend referred me to it.

What gave you the edge in landing this internship? They liked that I had taken a lot of good core math and engineering courses while still having taken a wide range of other courses. Also my computer software skills were big for them.

Describe your daily duties. I mainly worked under an engineer who was in the Project Management office. Being in PM, he had to deal with a lot of responsibilities other than actual engineering work so I helped him out with the engineering work that he did not have time to get to. In short, this involved performing experiments, analyzing data and writing reports/presenting on the results of my experiments and data analyses. Also I wrote computer code and helped set up computer programs.

What were some tasks/projects you worked on? The main project I worked on this past summer was evaluating the service life of personnel parachutes. Basically there is a limit on how much or how long a military personnel parachute can be used before it is taken out of service. The goal of my service life study was to prove that these parachutes can last longer than they are currently allowed to be used. This would hopefully lead to the extension of their service lives and would also save the U.S. government a lot of money. This study involved testing different weak points on the parachute systems and then running different types of data analyses on the results. The results of my experiments and analyses do suggest that the service life of these parachutes could possibly be extended, but more data needs to be gathered before any definitive conclusions can be reached.

Have any courses and/or professors helped you prepare for this internship? Which ones?
In general pretty much all of my math and physics/engineering courses prepared me for this internship. Specifically Professor Erickson’s Electrical Circuits class helped me to get comfortable using Matlab, the data analysis software that I used a bunch over the summer. Also Professor Cook’s Numerical Methods class showed me different ways I could use Matlab to analyze data.

What did you learn by the end of your experience?
I learned how many factors go into making a product like a parachute work well. The engineers have to design every little part of the parachute system and make sure they will all work together correctly. The manufacturers have to produce the systems as they are designed, and it is up to the engineers to make sure that they do that. The engineers and others work with military officers to develop instruction manuals for using, packing and maintaining the parachute systems. The military officers need to educate those in the field on how to properly use/handle the parachute systems. Finally, it is up to the paratroopers to execute their instructions properly. If one of these steps is not done correctly and completely, then an accident in the field is very possible.

What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?
Getting paid to travel was pretty cool. I went to Yuma, AZ to do some testing and it was a good time.

What did you learn from city where the internship was located?
I grew up in a small town and obviously go to school in a small town, so working in Boston for the summer was a lot different for me. I learned how much of a pain it is to get around in a big metro area like Boston, but it also provided a little more excitement.

What key takeaways/skills will you bring back to W&L?
Going out and doing an internship for the entire summer made me realize how great of a place W&L is. I definitely will not take the time I have left here for granted and will make the most of my senior year.

What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?
There are plenty of government R&D positions out there, and you can work on some really cool projects, especially in engineering. The work is not very stressful, and government benefits are really nice. Also It’s important to know that you will have to work with people of varying education levels and backgrounds to get your work done, not just engineers.

Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?
I had always planned on going to graduate school right after college to further my education. This past summer made me realize that you can learn just as much, if not more, from working. So while I still want to go to graduate school at some point, I have decided to work for a few years before I do.

Describe your experience in a single word.