The CSR’s Summer Research Institute Provides Invaluable Experiences in Port and Maritime Security Applications for Student Participants

9/3/2010

Funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an eight-week intensive Summer Research Institute (SRI) was held this summer at Stevens Institute of Technology. Developed and coordinated by the National Center for Secure and Resilient Maritime Commerce (CSR), a DHS Center of Excellence in Port Security, the summer research program was designed to provide qualified undergraduate and graduate students with a thorough understanding of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and the Marine Transportation System (MTS) from a homeland security perspective. This summer program, in its inaugural year, leveraged the CSR's research expertise in sensor technologies to engage students in challenging, hands-on research designed to tackle critical issues in maritime security.

Twenty-six students representing CSR partner universities including Stevens, Rutgers University, University of Miami, University of Puerto Rico, Monmouth University, and students from the University of Guam, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Morgan State University were on campus to participate. Students were organized into four research teams – Acoustics and Electro-Optics, HF Radar, Satellites, and Systems Thinking – and were tasked with conducting research and experiments to develop applications and strategies for detecting small vessel threats. Each team provided weekly presentations of their work and generated a final team report of their findings. In-class lectures, guest speakers and tours of local terminals and facilities rounded out the SRI.

Jose Mesa, a Civil Engineering major at the University of Puerto Rico, says: "The program was very well organized. I learned first-hand from very knowledgeable faculty members in a variety of disciplines." Andreas Graber, who will earn his BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Miami, agrees: "The meshing of the student participants and faculty has been great. I'm walking away from the program having had a great experience, working with and learning from a broad-base of people."

The student participants all agreed that the design of the program was a good balance of classroom work, practical research and interacting with industry and government practitioners. Danielle (Dani) Holden, a senior at Rutgers University studying Physical Oceanography, says that the exposure to professionals in the classroom was really impactful to her, and that she learned more than she anticipated through the SRI.

"Coming here helped me realize how many and varied opportunities there are out there in this field," Dani explains. "I knew the program would be helpful and interesting, but being able to learn from all these diverse people introduced me to so much more. Everyone offered different perspectives and helped us gain a deeper understanding and appreciation."

For Hardik Gajjar, a PhD student at Stevens, a stand-out aspect of the program was the field trips. "It was interesting for me to witness how people work in the field," Hardik, who is studying Maritime Security, says. "Experiencing the process and work flow first-hand was great. There are a lot of expectations on our generation to contribute to society and security. This program helped me realize what we need to do."

"We got to really see systems at work on these field trips," agrees Michael Trent, a Class of 2009 Stevens graduate who is now pursuing his Master's here in Maritime Systems Security. "Observing the real-world systems that we're working on in our groups provided me guidance on where I need to go."

Another consistent theme that emerged among the participants was the value of working with other students with such diverse interests. Jose explains: "We all have different backgrounds – ocean, civil, mechanical – and we're sharing that knowledge with each other. The collaboration and teamwork is so helpful." Dani concurs: "We all help each other out!"

"One of our primary objectives in offering the Summer Research Institute was to inspire and encourage students through our curriculum and experiential learning opportunities to consider advanced academic study and careers in the maritime homeland security domain," explains Beth Austin DeFares, Director of Education. "In an end of the program survey, 100% of the students said that they would recommend the SRI to their peers and colleagues, and 98% said that the Summer Research Institute had enhanced their interest in pursuing careers within the homeland security domain, including federal, state, local government, private industry and academia. With student assessments like these, we couldn't be more pleased or satisfied with the outcome."

Summing up his experience, Andreas concludes: "I am definitely going to use what I've learned through the program and apply it to work in port/maritime security that makes a difference. Having a job will be great, but knowing what I'm doing will improve the quality of life for society would be even better."

For more information about the program, please see the overview flyer, visit the CSR website or contact Beth Austin DeFares, Director of Education at or 201.216.5362.