Interview by Sam Bartusek
Courtney Schmitt has worked with both the mechanical and electrical teams here for the summer, and she spoke to us recently about how maintaining her ambitions in aerospace while working at an underwater drone company has been easier than she expected, and how there’s no substitute for hands-on work.
SB: Thanks for taking the time to chat today! Could you just introduce yourself first?
CS: Sure! My name is Courtney Schmitt, and I’m from New Jersey. I go to school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and I’m a rising senior studying mechanical engineering.
SB: How long have you been interested in engineering, and how did you first get involved?
CS: Well, I started at Hopkins as a physics major, and before that I had been very interested in science throughout high school. I had one teacher who really pushed me more towards the physical sciences, and I did that because I was originally really interested in space. But after taking some classes and being exposed to what the engineers at school were doing, I realized I wanted to do more hands-on work, so I switched to mechanical engineering. It is a pretty broad type of engineering and I felt I would have a lot of flexibility with whatever I ended up wanting to do. So that’s how I got involved with engineering.
At Hopkins I’ve been taking classes related to aerospace too, because I am still interested in space exploration. And as of recently I’ve also gotten very interested in robotics.
SB: What drew you to Duro?
CS: I was looking around for summer internships in the New York area, because I am relatively local, and I first came across Duro while looking for robotics companies. I knew about drones and specifically aerial vehicles but never had really heard of underwater drones before. It seemed really interesting and something that I’d like to learn more about. I also liked the message behind the company — the idea that the work is for an environmental purpose. It seemed rewarding to get involved with a company like that.
SB: How rewarding and engaging have you found working here?
CS: Yes, definitely. I’ve learned a lot throughout my time here, and I really enjoy working with everyone on the team as well. It’s exciting because I feel like I’m being challenged a lot.
At school a lot of my engineering background so far has been problem sets and very technical math-related things, so it’s cool to be able to come here and apply that knowledge but also incorporate the other more creative aspects of design as well, beyond just the math. It’s really satisfying to be able to see from start to finish something we built and designed ourselves, and that some of the solutions I’ve come up with will actually be implemented.
SB: What projects have you been working on so far?
CS: I’ve been mostly working with the mechanical team, but I’ve also been shadowing the electrical team a little, because that is something I’m also interested in. The biggest project that I’ve done so far has been designing the computer pressure vessel for the AUV — I enjoyed that because it was sort of an intersection between the mechanical and the electrical sides. Other than that, I’ve been helping to figure out some of the buoyancy requirements and helping finish up the final assembly of the AUV.
SB: How do you think working here has helped you work towards your aerospace interests, even though it’s not directly in that field?
CS: Well, it’s surprised me because I’ve realized that space and underwater applications are actually more similar than I previously thought. Space and the deep sea are both extreme environments, so you have to account for things like large pressure and temperature changes, reducing mass; things like that. But they’re also very different. For example, underwater you get limited in material choice due to corrosion from saltwater, where as in space there are other damaging factors like radiation. It’s been really interesting to see what factors you have to consider depending on the different environments that you’re working in.
Also, like I said before, because a lot of my engineering experience up until this point has been mainly class work, being able to actually design and build something I haven’t really done before and learning about this process is definitely going to help me in the future, no matter what field I go into.
SB: In your future studies and career how do you see yourself combining your aerospace and robotics interests?
CS: I’ll graduate after this year, but then I’m going to stick around for a fifth year and pursue a Master’s degree in robotics, so I’ll get more of a formal educational background in that sense. And then, yes, after that I’d love to be able to pursue a career that allows me to work in the intersection between aerospace and robotics.