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Budding engineers learn from those who walked before them

Not long ago they were Tidewater Community College students. Today Brent Ruffy, Tom Freeley, Louis Fisher and Richard Schaefer are engineers. Ruffy is a mechanical engineer; Freeley, electrical; Fisher, civil; and Schaefer is a shift refueling engineer. Employed by Huntington Ingalls Industries, the TCC graduates joined with colleagues Tina Stimson and Jennifer Ammentorp to talk shop with the college’s current engineering students, sharing advice, networking skills and even empathy for classes they dreaded.
Brent Ruffy, Tina Stimson, Lewis Fisher, Richard Schaefer, Jennifer Ammentorp Tom Freeley
Brent Ruffy and Tina Stimson; back from left,
Lewis Fisher, Richard Schaefer, Jennifer
Ammentorp and Tom Freeley

Popular question: How does one survive thermodynamics?

“Once you get to the second part of it, it becomes fascinating,” Ruffy promised the audience of students at the Virginia Beach Student Center. “Because I was paying for school myself, I came to appreciate what they meant and tried to make the best out of every class I had.”

The engineers stressed the versatility of the profession and the plethora of opportunities awaiting at Huntington Ingalls, the largest employer in the state of Virginia.

“I’ve been in four different departments in 10 years,” said Ruffy, currently working aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Lincoln. “There are so many things to do in the shipyard you don’t even think about.”

Schaefer, whose job entails disassembling reactors, replacing the fuel and reassembling them, stressed the need for communication skills. “The nuclear world is heavily documented and you have to write to several different groups of people,” he said. “You have to learn how to communicate effectively with your customers and upper management.”

He stressed the value of continuing education, noting the benefits of the shipyard’s tuition reimbursement program and George Washington University coming to the shipyard to teach classes in the evening.

Army veteran Fisher said TCC provided an excellent foundation for tackling and analyzing problems – something he does every day on the job. “I use my mind,” said Fisher, who recommended the students sacrifice their personal time for academics. “Tell yourself that your future is more important than that party. Your focus should be on your books.”

Fisher also urged the students to take advantage of the small class sizes at TCC and their relationships with professors. “The professors are there for you; bug them during office hours,” he said. “Don’t just go to a professor when you have a test and don’t know something.

“What you get here is a great education that rivals Old Dominion and Virginia Tech,” he said. “Take pride in TCC. I do.”

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