Name: Thomas O’Keefe

Class: IMSE Undergraduate Class of 2016

Organization: Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY)


What does the organization do?

The Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, is one of the largest shipyards in the world specializing in repairing, overhauling and modernizing ships and submarines. It’s the oldest and largest industrial facility that belongs to the U.S. Navy, and it’s also the most multifaceted.

While NNSY can dry-dock, overhaul and repair any ship in the U.S. fleet, it can also perform any technical, fabrication, manufacturing and engineering work an organization might need accomplished. The shipyard’s planners and shops are linked by state-of-the-art computer systems to permit computer-aided design (CAD) work, and automated information systems to provide quality services on time and within budget. In fact, NNSY is known for tackling jobs never before performed, and applying unique planning methods and work procedures through modern process improvements.


Current Role:

Nuclear Engineer, Code 2320.3 Mechanical and Fluid Systems MTS Conversion Group

A day in the life of a Nuclear Engineer at NNSY:

My main responsibility as a nuclear engineer at NNSY is to provide engineering support for production personnel who are completing various maintenance activities and ship alterations for the nuclear-powered vessels stationed at NNSY (aircraft carriers & submarines). We provide support in a variety of ways. In the “Nuclear Navy” everything is done to a procedure with “verbatim compliance”. My main responsibility is writing these procedures (or job instructions) and providing support for those jobs as they are being worked. Typically, I need to research the various requirements for these job instructions. This is done by combing through the various drawings, schematics, and technical manuals for the particular component being worked. This is then generally followed by going down to the ship, or in the case of a submarine the “boat”, and physically investigating the component itself. Once the work of the job begins, I am there to support the production personnel who are doing the work. This can vary from simply answering a question about the procedure (i.e. how much to torque a bolt) to changing the method of doing the work which can sometimes result in some creative new ways to do things.


Below is an example of a recent day I’ve had:


6:30 AM: I usually roll in to work around 6:30, NNSY has over 10,000 employees and a decent parking spot is prime real estate. The branch I work with allows us to come in when we would like to and then leave at the appropriate time. This allows our branch to be able to cover about 12 hours of the day without having to make anyone stay extra.


7:30 AM: By now I’ve gotten at least some coffee into my system. Generally, for the first hour or so I am checking/responding to emails and looking to see what the “hot jobs” are in the shipyard (as well as looking to see if I “own” any of the “hot jobs”). Now, I’m also seeing what went on during backshift and whether there were any problems that arose that need us to find a solution for. Nothing came up so I begin work on a new procedure.

10:30 AM: While doing the background research for my procedure I came across a problem we had when performing the same job on the last MTS conversion project. It turned out that the design specifications for a component we will be fabricating are too stringent and with the current under-manning at the shipyard, it would be impractical to try to meet the spec.


12:00 PM: This is usually when I go grab lunch. There’s a small café on the yard that’s a good 10-minute walk away which gives me a chance to stretch out my legs.


12:30 PM I began writing a letter to the “Prime Contractor” that designed the reactor plant and its various systems. I (and another engineer I work with) had to describe what the problem was, what we wanted to do to fix it, and then justify why it would benefit the Navy to do it our way rather than the way the contractor has it laid out right now.


2:30 PM: I finished up the final draft of the letter and submitted it to my branch head to review. After he reviews it I’ll need to get it approved by my Division Head before sending it off.


3:00 PM: Double checked my emails and went to see if there were any problems with any jobs that were working before leaving. The other big reason I come in at 6:30 is that I get to leave at 3:00. Since nothing came up it’s time to head out!


Why did I choose the shipyard?

One of the reasons I gravitated towards working for the Navy was because I grew up in a Navy family. I spent a few years as a Navy “Nuc” as well. The other big reason I looked here was because of what we work on. I get to go work on the most powerful ships in the world on a daily basis. Not only that, but I get to work on the most advanced propulsion systems that exist on ships. How many people can say they do that every day?

What’s my goal?

Right now, my goal is to reach the “working level” as an engineer at the shipyard, which is a GS-12. Long term my goal is to eventually become a “Lead Engineer” and possibly a branch head at some point in the future.

What’s the most surprising thing I didn’t expect coming out of college?

The most surprising thing for me is that I’m basically working as a mechanical engineer. Not only am I working as a nuclear (mechanical) engineer but I’m exceling at it and increasing my knowledge in the field every day. I’ve been amazed at how much the industrial engineering tools and skills I learned at WVU have helped me, even in a field that isn’t directly industrial engineering related.

Least favorite thing about the shipyard?

Honestly the base pay could be a little bit better working as a federal employee.

My 2 Cents:

Don’t give up! I wasn’t exactly what you would call a model student but if you stick with it something awesome will come around!

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