Office of Public Affairs

USM Engineering alumni: From connecting circuits to building the Navy's newest ships

USM alumnus Hector Ortiz

Before Hector Ortiz and Ron Peterson joined Bath Iron Works — helping to design and build the Navy’s state-of-the-art ships — the University of Southern Maine wrought and tempered them into engineers.

The rigor of USM’s fully-accredited Department of Engineering prepared the 2014 graduates to perform important roles for the 130-year-old shipbuilder, they said.

“I think it prepares you fairly well for the rigor of an everyday workday here,” said Peterson, an electrical engineer who works on power systems in the massive vessels. “Classes such as Circuits, Electrical-Mechanical Energy Conversion, Power Systems and a lot of the critical thinking and lab work that you do in those classes are not unlike anything you might do here as an electrical engineer at BIW.”

Ortiz, a mechanical engineer who serves as a liaison between the Navy and BIW, agreed.

“I still refer to my notes from class,” he said. “Sometimes if I am stuck, I’ll open up an old textbook or one of my old notebooks and just take a look and see if we spoke about it in class. Usually, we did.”

The lessons contribute to the financial powerhouse, which has about 5,700 workers and serves as the largest manufacturing employer in the state of Maine. Currently, BIW has six Navy ships under construction, including the next generation, Zumwalt-class, all-electric stealth destroyer.

Ortiz adjusted to the workplace quickly.

A Miami native who served for eight years in the Navy before attending USM, he started working at the shipyard while he was still a student.

USM helped me obtain two internships here, in 2012 and 2013,” Ortiz said. “They were pretty active in helping us find summer positions that would help us in our field.”

USM alumnus Ron PetersonPeterson, who grew up about twelve miles off the Maine coast on Monhegan Island, began at BIW soon after graduation and also adjusted quickly.

“I think ships are in my blood,” he said.

Both men feel a sense of pride, as shipbuilders and as USM alumni.

“You’re working on some of the most advanced ships in the world and we definitely take a lot of pride in that.” Peterson said. “When we send a product down the river, there’s so much work that went into it. You want to know that when you had your piece of it, you did the best job you could. At the end of the day, there are soldiers out there that rely on that product.”

Ortiz agreed.

“When I came here, I heard from sailors all over that this is a ‘top notch ship’ we’re building,” he said. “It makes me feel that much more accomplished that they appreciate that kind of detail and design and building we do here.”

They thanked USM and the Department of Engineering for helping them develop the skills they needed.

”It tests you enough that if you came to BIW, you’d manage that workload as well,” Peterson said. “You have enough of a foundation that you could excel.”

Story by Dan Hartill, Office of Public Affairs