Thomas Zdyrski ’15, MITRE

Tom-ZdyriskiWhile attempting to pursue a career in military research and development, I found it somewhat difficult to find straightforward, candid answers to many of my questions. Harder still was finding a way to gain first-hand experience in such a classified field. Therefore, when I found this Princeternship at MITRE Corp., I realized that it could not only answer many of my inquiries, but it would also accord me a very rare glimpse into this fascinating sector. However, I had not anticipated the multitude of other benefits I would experience or the interesting people I would meet.

Monday morning, I met up with the Kristin—the other Princetern—and our host, Sandeep Mulgund *94. After returning to Sandeep’s office, he described the basic operating principles of the company as well as the various projects being pursued. Following this, we toured some of the numerous labs scattered throughout the MITRE complex. In the computer lab, some of the employees were generous enough to give Kristin and I a brief demo of their work. While the technology was fascinating, the most interesting aspect was meeting all of the incredible people, including another alumni from Princeton. Next, Sandeep treated us to lunch where we discussed more casual topics such as Princeton life and how things have changed since he was a graduate student. Finally, upon returning to MITRE, we were able to meet with the chief engineer. After receiving invaluable advice from such a knowledgeable source, Kristin and I were each honored with two commemorative coins. After some parting words, we concluded our Princeternship equipped with invaluable information, new networks, and amazing friends. It was an amazing experience that I’m sure will prove beneficial in the future; therefore, I’d like to thank Sandeep and all the other MITRE employees who took time out of their busy schedules to give us a brief glimpse into life outside the Orange Bubble.

Kristin Goehl ’16, MITRE

On March 18, I had the pleasure of shadowing Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 at the MITRE Corporation with fellow Princetern Thomas Zdyrski.  Dr. Mulgund works as a combat scientist for MITRE, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) that supports federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Once we had arrived at the facility and passed through security, Dr. Mulgund met with us in his office.  While there we discussed career paths in science/engineering, as well as how to prepare for a job in a company like MITRE.  We also learned about how MITRE and FFRDCs are different from typical defense contractors.

For me, this conversation was one of the most important parts of the day.  Dr. Mulgund stressed how an engineering education prepares you for the workforce by teaching you how to think – how to solve problems and to present solutions.   While he valued his Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering degree, Dr. Mulgund told us how after receiving his PhD he soon found himself in a very different area of work, eventually ending up at MITRE working on military command and control systems.  He also emphasized the importance of networking and its role in finding (and getting) the right job after school.

One topic that really struck me was how FFRDCs like MITRE are run.  FFRDCs do not competitively bid like typical defense contractors and try to sell their products to the government.  Rather, they are sponsored by the government to do planning, research and development.  MITRE’s motto, “Working in the Public Interest “ is remarkably similar to Princeton’s own unofficial motto, “In the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”  The corporation is not-for-profit, and is able to work for the long-term benefit of the United States.

After our lengthy discussion, Dr. Mulgund gave us a general tour of the MITRE campus.  One area we were shown was the ACME lab, which brings together sponsors and MITRE experts to brainstorm, work through problems, and discuss solutions using a variety of simple visual aids.  The lab encourages the many participants in a project to collaborate openly and on the same level.

Also during the tour, Thomas and I were brought to one of the R&D labs of the MITRE facility to see some demonstrations of current projects MITRE is working on.  The first demonstration used a computer program to simulate decision-making and to guide someone through a series of decisions by giving them the options they have as well as relevant information/data to the decision they have to make.  Next, we saw how MITRE is working to improve communication between different emergency services using technology in computers, phones and tablets.  Lastly, we were shown how an Xbox Kinect is being used to put a presenter on the screen of their presentation (similar to a weatherman) and how they can interact with their presentation.  This project was also expanded to allow a second person in a completely different location to also simultaneously interact with the presentation.  During our time in the lab, Thomas and I had the pleasure of meeting James Rayson ’81, who spoke briefly to us about his time at Princeton in the electrical engineering/computer science department, handing us copies of an ancient Princeton computer punch card he kept from his days as an undergraduate.

After discussing more about the field of engineering and MITRE over lunch, we were introduced to Dr. George Providakes, chief engineer of MITRE’s Command and Control Center (C2C).  Dr. Providakes was very interested in how Thomas and I became involved in science and engineering, and encouraged us to continue to pursue our interest in technology, perhaps even to the point of working at a FFRDC in the future.  In the tradition of military challenge coins and also in commemoration of our experience, Dr. Providakes gave each of us a C2C coin.  In addition we received MITRE coins from Dr. Mulgund, providing a solid start to our own military coin collection, a collection I very much hope to expand in the future.

This Princeternship was a fantastic experience.   I believe that it was very valuable to me as I consider my career options for the future as an engineer.  It has helped me reexamine the various courses I want to take while at Princeton, as well as what I am looking for in a career.  I would like to thank Mr. Rayson and Dr. Providakes for being willing to take time out of their schedules to speak with Thomas and me.  I would especially like to thank Dr. Mulgund for being such a great mentor and for hosting me.  At the end of the day, I was very encouraged and was given much to think about.