Point Mugu Fall 2023 ESDP graduates

Graduates of the Engineer and Scientist Development Program pose with Capt. Steven Thomas, NAWCWD vice commander, left, and Rear Adm. Keith Hash, NAWCWD commander, right, following the ESDP graduation ceremony in Point Mugu, California, on Oct. 25. (U.S. Navy photo by Kayla Herrera)

Celebrating the Innovators of Tomorrow: NAWCWD Honors 45 ESDP Grads

Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division marked a significant milestone this year as its Engineer and Scientist Development Program celebrated its 20th anniversary. Honoring 45 recent graduates, the program demonstrated its continued commitment to advancing the next wave of innovators in defense technology. Graduation ceremonies took place at Point Mugu on Oct. 25 and China Lake on Oct. 31.

With this latest class, NAWCWD has produced 1,076 graduates since its inception in 2003.

Representing 26 colleges across 12 states, these graduates are as diverse as they are talented. Some have ventured into Alaska's choppy waters, chasing after the elusive salmon, while others competed in discus at the 2021 USA Track and Field Olympic Trials. The festive spirit runs deep in this cohort — so much so that one even won a Halloween costume contest by accident.

What distinguishes them is not just their unique interests but a steadfast dedication to advancing national defense.

Warfighters rely on emerging technologies to execute their missions with precision and safety. These new graduates embody NAWCWD's resolve to cultivate talent, serving as a cornerstone in delivering vital warfighting capabilities that provide a decisive advantage. Upholding the core value of service, they epitomize NAWCWD's commitment to empowering our warfighters.

Their work has already earned the trust of senior leadership, as they are accountable for significant projects with real-world implications. Above all, the program celebrates and respects the diversity of talent and thought, understanding that innovation comes from a multitude of perspectives.

Dean Cook, ESDP's program manager, has seen these new graduates' contributions firsthand. 

"Some of them are important members of project teams, applying cutting-edge technologies to solve warfighting problems. Others are already leading project teams and, in some cases, large projects," Cook said.

So, why is their role increasingly critical?

With an emphasis on the urgency of the moment, Cook elaborated on their growing importance, especially in our current geopolitical climate. 

"Transforming people this way matters now more than ever because America's adversaries are not taking a holiday — they're working hard to catch up and even exceed our capabilities," he added.

How will these graduates shape the future of defense?

Addressing this critical issue, Rear Adm. Keith Hash, NAWCWD commander, stressed the indispensable roles these young innovators will play.

"I guarantee you, those of us wearing captain's rank and stars, we don't have the solutions — you do. And you're going to guide teams with the solutions to solve these really hard problems that we need to solve for our nation and our allies," Hash remarked.

ESDP graduates complete rigorous training, including three to five years of rotational tours and mentorships and more than 300 hours of specialized training to earn their Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act Level 2 certification — a requirement for all federal acquisition professionals.

In the realm of defense, investments today determine tomorrow's security, highlighting the critical role of nurturing emerging talents.

Capt. Steven Thomas, NAWCWD vice commander, emphasized the long-term impact of nurturing new talent. 

"Investing in you now sets us on a good glide path for the future," said Thomas. Adding a hopeful note for the future, he continued, "That investment we're putting into you now is what's going to make the future of NAWCWD."

However, their journey is not an end but a step on a much longer path.

Reflecting on the journey ahead, Hash closed with words of encouragement and challenge. 

"Your graduation is a fantastic milestone and an end to something you've started, and you should be very proud of that," he said. "But the reality is, we just gave you a license. It's just the beginning of what we expect from you."

Finally, Hash emphasized the transformative power of mentorship and continuous learning. 

"This graduation marks the beginning of your commitment to reinvest in the people around you. The people you mentor will teach you as much or more than you teach them," Hash encouraged. 

He also urged the graduates to adopt a growth mindset and to be "opportunity-driven and risk-aware" as they navigate their careers. 

"You are our current leaders, not just the future ones," Hash affirmed. "Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they don't get it wrong. And that's what you are — professionals."


This year's graduates are:

Daler Aminov Evan Kearse Alexander Wilson
Erica Arroyo Elliott Keeter Collin Overall
Steven Betts Rebecca Kennedy Joshua Dennis
Eric Chang Jayson Kovar Liudmila Drell
Ian Clark Anais Linan Ranil Ganlath
Justin Cole Karina Lopez Morgan Garone
Valerie Ebbay Allison Monclova Matthew Gintjee
Robert Gockley Brandon Noble Jose Gonzalez Chavez
Ryan Guggenbuehl Patrick Olcott John Griffin
Ethan Haddock Federico Palafox Henry Ho
Ainslee Hampel Ryan Richard Daniel H. Lopez
Chad Herbert Ulises Romero-Urbina Sean Matisoff
Jordan Chun-Han Hsu Amanda Strand Phillip Porter
Daniel Jacob Christopher Taylor Kyle Rickets
Deneyce Joseph Joshua Willard Ryan Wojtyla




Rear Adm. Keith Hash, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, NAWCWD commander, right, stands with graduates of the Engineer and Scientist Development Program at the conclusion of their graduation ceremony in China Lake, California, on Oct. 31. (U.S. Navy photo by Ryan Smith)

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