Winter Work Term: More than a Robotics Company

by Jonathan Alenn ’23

The Okeanos Explorer in Key West

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Good things come to those who wait”. When finding winter work spots, I wouldn’t recommend it, but I got lucky for my junior year internship. I still did not have a job lined up in early December when Professor Golden sent out an email saying an underwater robotics company was looking for two interns. A cover letter, interview, and acceptance letter in a couple days and I had booked my ticket for the sunny shores of central Rhode Island. Three months later and I had completed my favorite internship on the chilly shores of Key West.

The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration (GFOE) is more than just a robotics company. They design, build, maintain, and operate some of the most sophisticated remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in the world. They run expeditions across the seven seas searching for some of the world’s most isolated plants, animals, and shipwrecks. Capable of going 6000 meters deep, almost four miles, deep, GFOE has explored areas such as the Hawaiian Islands, Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and Marianas Trench.
I did my internship with Evan Spalding, a sophomore who, like me, absolutely loves to ski. We went skiing several times in Vermont and his home “mountain” of Yawgoo on a powder day. I also took trips to Newport, Maine, and Boston. Weekends were always fun to explore the Northeast in the winter for a Florida man.

Jonathan’s Co-Worker, Evan with the renovated mini-sub

I worked at GFOE’s main workshop in Quonset, Rhode Island for seven weeks. While there, I got to go hands-on almost every single day with their two largest ROVs, Deep Discoverer (D2) and Seirios. From the first day, they had Evan and I working on the different systems. The first week we completely took apart and reassembled the rock boxes and drawers on D2. After that, I worked on the hydraulics system, tracing out the different components and adjusting the manifold settings so the speeds were correct. Then using Solidworks I made from scratch an adapter piece for the new PDM cable on D2 that was put out for order a week later. One of my favorite things was to restore an old mini-sub that used to dive in Narragansett Bay. It will now be on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum. These are just a few of the things they had Evan and I doing, and we never found ourselves without meaningful and interesting work.
The highlight of the internship; however, had to be my 10 days going from Pascagoula to Key West on a “shakedown cruise” aboard NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer. All of the mission systems on board were rigorously tested to get ready for their spring and summer expeditions. I shadowed all the different team members from the deck hands, navigator, co-pilots, and winch team. I quickly fell into a pattern on board and enjoyed life on the water.

Jonathan Allen ’23 controlling D2 on his last day of Winter Work Term

I liked it so much, I went back. This summer I was part of their expedition to the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal for 28 days. I’m especially thankful to Professor Golden for connecting to me to this great company filled with awesome people. Even if I had to wait for it.