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Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity hosted another round of college students this summer who have contributed in many ways to the mission and culture of this unique military unit tucked away at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. This year’s 17-person cohort is comprised of high school and college students from around the county. (Photo by Amy Forsythe, Public Affairs Officer, MCTSSA)

Photo by Amy Forsythe

MCTSSA Interns Make Lasting Impact

24 Aug 2022 | Amy Forsythe, Public Affairs Officer, MCTSSA Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity

Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity hosted another round of college students this summer who have contributed in many ways to the mission and culture of this unique military unit tucked away at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

High school and college students from around the country comprise this year’s 17-person cohort. They quickly coalesced into a tight-knit group dubbing themselves the ‘Megalodons,’ named after the extinct species of mackerel shark that lived approximately 23 to 3.6 million years ago. The interns were asked to identify a mascot for the group and all arrived at Megalodon due to its marine nature and being a fierce animal.

Hosting summer interns is designed to provide MCTSSA’s workforce additional surge support and prepares students for future career choices with experiential learning opportunities. As the next generation of engineers, MCTSSA is an ideal location where they can explore specialty fields such as cyber resilience, supporting long-range communications and identifying electromagnetic spectrum signatures.

We are excited to transfer valuable existing knowledge to the upcoming, younger workforce. Our interns and the pipeline programs are the future for MCTSSA and we’re investing heavily in them. They’ve already provided significant return on that investment.Susie Alderson, Technical Director for MCTSSA

“We are excited to transfer valuable existing knowledge to the upcoming, younger workforce. Our interns and the pipeline programs are the future for MCTSSA and we’re investing heavily in them. They’ve already provided significant return on that investment,” said Susie Alderson, Technical Director for MCTSSA.

Students come from colleges and universities from around the country, including Ivy League institutions like Harvard and Yale. This year’s cohort also includes students from UC Berkeley, University of Tulsa, and California State University at San Marcos, located just 30 minutes from Camp Pendleton.

There are multiple programs aimed to help students improve their engineering skills and provide them with opportunities to apply relevant academic studies to emerging Navy and Marine Corps challenges. Each scholar was selected for their ability to contribute to current and future efforts and received a contribution plan for their internship.

Pathway to Federal Service

The Department of Defense and U.S. Navy have established several academic programs that are pathways to funnel qualified and potential engineers for employment into the DOD upon graduation from college:

- DOD Science, Math and Research for Transformation (SMART) program
- DOD College Acquisition Internship Program (DCAIP)
- Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP)
- Naval Acquisition Development Program (NADP)
- Science and Engineering Apprentice Program (SEAP)

While at MCTSSA, participants are mentored by multiple engineers while working with a team that included current NADP or SMART employees, as well as Naval Postgraduate School alumni serving on active duty.

“The interns are able to expand the capabilities of MCTSSA by applying their valuable skillsets to Marine Corps problems. In addition to their knowledge, the interns bring an excitement to making Marines more capable,” said Sean Mulcahy, lead program coordinator.

DOD and the Navy assisted by coordinating selection and hiring activities, sponsored and funded travel, stipends or pay and provided non-competitive opportunities for hiring. Most of the internships began in June typically ends in mid-to-late August. The Office of Naval Research also provides additional stipends, enabling some extensions into September.

Planning for the Future

Shriya Pingali, 21, from Falls Church, Virginia, is a senior at Yale University and studying computer science. The DOD’s SMART program has agreed to pay for three years of her college tuition, plus an annual stipend, totaling more than $200,000. In exchange, Pingali is contracted to serve as a federal employee at MCTSSA for three years upon graduation as part of her pathway entry program.

“As a first-generation American, I’m grateful and wanted to give back to a country that have given my family so much,” Pingali said. “I’m looking forward to coming back to MCTSSA next year to learn more and begin my career.”

The MCTSSA intern selection team reviewed more than 3,000 applications to find the best mix of academic, technical and extracurricular experiences among the applicants. After selecting the most qualified applicants, mentors hosted virtual and physical visits to MCTSSA’s location in north San Diego County to ensure expectations were set accurately before making the final selections to work at MCTSSA.

Learning the Mission of the Marines Corps

In July, interns received orientation classes from Marine leaders about the constructs of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The interns spent the day on a firing range on Camp Pendleton with infantry Marines to observe how they operate in a training environment, which included moving with body armor, carrying heavy loads, setting up communication equipment and embarking and disembarking on ground vehicles.

During their time at MCTSSA, interns were assigned to specialty cyber teams where they learned about emerging tools and how to employ them in a variety of environments. Multiple interns entered into the Advanced Concepts Cell, where they complemented electromagnetic spectrum efforts by developing artificial intelligence tools for signal processing to help Marines fight and win in spectrum-denied/contested environments.

“Interns bring new and creative energy. They ask questions that snap us out of any complacency ‘why do we do things this way’ or ‘is this really the best way to get this done?’ They mostly come from non-military backgrounds, so they ask many questions out of genuine curiosity, which makes all of us take a fresh look at our situation and solutions,” Alderson added. 

The 2022 student cohort gained valuable hands-on experience which is a key component to career selection and success in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. “Offering a glimpse into federal service while gaining valuable and real-world challenges is going help them make the right career decisions, and hopefully they’ll want to join our team down the road,” Mulcahy added.

MCTSSA, an elite, full-scale laboratory facility operated by the Marine Corps, is a subordinate command of Marine Corps Systems Command. MCTSSA, based at Camp Pendleton, provides test and evaluation, engineering, and deployed technical support for Marine Corps and joint service command, control, computer, communications and intelligence systems throughout all acquisition lifecycle phases.


Marine Corps Systems Command