Summer internship

Engineering student explores Arctic pack ice on U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy

This three-part first-person series highlights internships completed by Walla Walla University students during summer 2017. (Part one of three.)

by Christian Welch, WWU senior majoring in electrical engineering

“Life is like a map. Each new experience helps expand and shade in the uncharted regions and adds perspective to your dreams, ambitions, and may even lead you to the discovery of your life calling. Each added contour line reveals meaning, purpose, and a drive to succeed as the ‘big picture’ becomes increasingly visible. This summer, a significant chunk of my map gained clarity.

“This past school year I scoured the internet in search of summer internships. As I combed the websites of well-known engineering corporations, I remembered learning about internships as a lowly freshman in Prof. Riley’s Intro to Engineering class. I learned that internships made a significant impact on career success and personal development and hoped that I would find one relevant to my studies and career interests. When an opportunity at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London, Connecticut, appeared last fall, I excitedly applied. Months of waiting, more than a dozen other internship applications, and plans to travel to India with Engineers Without Borders all left a big ‘question mark’ in my summer plans. Finally, in March, I learned that I had been accepted as an intern at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center through the DHS HS-STEM intern program and would be spending considerable time aboard an icebreaking ship in the Arctic.

“I spent the first month on location in New London helping prepare a variety of autonomous technologies to be tested in the Arctic Ocean. The following month I found myself high in the Arctic ice pack aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (CGC HEALY), the only American icebreaker tasked with Arctic operations. Working with a team of scientists and engineers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Coast Guard RDC, and Northrop-Grumman, we launched and recovered numerous meteorological buoys, tested unmanned maritime systems, and even conducted ice-diving operations with a Coast Guard dive team. We successfully tested the autonomous technologies developed prior to the voyage and learned their niches and shortcomings. I was privileged with the opportunity to experience Coast Guard life both aboard the Healy in the Arctic and on shore at various Coast Guard stations across the Northeast.

“I didn't realize the enormity of the life lessons one can learn while underway on a Coast Guard Cutter. Without any telephone or internet access for nearly a month, it was refreshing to unplug from the artificial human connections we learn to crave through social media. I experienced a mental clarity that seems to lack when you are constantly bombarded by modern, tech-crazy life. Solitude is a rare condition in a world of constant connection, unfortunately. On a spiritual level, I noticed that connection with my Creator is deepest in a time of true quiet. Not just the absence of sound, but the quietness of a less-hectic world where solitude is acceptable and technology is not substituted for authentic conversation—a world I experienced aboard the Healy. My favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 30:15, took on new meaning this summer as we cruised the Arctic Ocean: “In quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (ESV).

“In the solitude of the Arctic I discovered a group of people who intimately understand the importance of community and authentic relationships with others. I discovered a community of people who quietly serve without the expectation of recognition. I discovered a band of bold brothers and sisters who are not afraid to risk failure for the sake of learning. Though not always praised with the recognition they often deserve, they selflessly stand watch over our harbors and waterways ‘so others may live.’

“My time serving alongside the selfless men and women of the United States Coast Guard taught me that internships can provide incredible personal value—often far in excess of the professional and academic growth they offer. I am thankful for the life lessons learned this summer and still marvel at the experiences I relished as an intern. Though Prof. Riley incessantly goads his freshmen engineering students to seek internships right from the start, I now realize their incredible importance. My internship this summer helped shade in many uncharted portions of my ‘life map,’ and I am thankful for Walla Walla University’s role in helping me achieve what I thought impossible.”

About the author
Christian Welch was a DHS HS-STEM intern working in the Surface Branch at the Coast Guard Research and Development Center.  His assignment was supporting the 2017 Arctic Technology Evaluations aboard CGC HEALY. He is currently a senior studying electrical engineering at Walla Walla University with an emphasis in global humanitarian engineering. He is also the project manager of an Engineers Without Borders endeavor and serves as a volunteer firefighter in College Place. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, music, backpacking, sailing, and experimenting with HF antenna design as a ham radio operator.

Posted Sept. 6, 2017

Photo of Welch standing aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy with a helocopter in the background.
Welch on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy.
Welch and the Lieutenant Car Brietzke secure work on dec the Healy.
Welch and Lieutenant Carl Brietzke secure an unmanned system to the starboard rail of the Healy.
Welch and another man aboard ship dressed up in their orange sailing clothes.
Welch helps establish control of an unmanned system designed as a multiuse sensor platform.
Welch stands on the bow of a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium at Coast Guard Station New London in Connecticut.
Welch stands on the bow of a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium at Coast Guard Station New London in Connecticut.