By Amanda Campanaro
The saying “Students today, Huskies forever,” is more than a mantra for school spirit. To Erica Rozzero (formerly Erica Pehmoeller), Materials Science and Engineering B.S. ’12, M.S. ‘15, it mirrors the idea that her UConn education provides a foundation for her to build on as she continues to learn the nuances of her trade.
As a metallurgical engineer at Electric Boat’s Washington, D.C. location, Erica spends most of her time focusing on materials specifications for castings and forgings for the implementation of Technical Publication 0300, a Navy steel base material specification that covers several base material forms. “I work predominantly with the casting and forging vendors wishing to qualify or recertify to the specification,” she explains. “Due to the increased size and complexity of the castings and forgings Electric Boat is now trying to procure, qualification is difficult.”
The challenge arises in castings and forging with very thick or very thin segments, which present a heat treatment challenge, as under- or over-tempering parts of the piece can easily occur. Additionally, extremely complex castings may have an increased amount of hydrogen within them. “Since hydrogen can cause premature failure, in some cases under loads below the bulk material’s yield strength, this is a significant concern,” Erica says. She, along with Electric Boat, is working with the vendors to determine if further heat treatment can solve these hydrogen issues, or if new riser designs are necessary for castings of this size and complexity.
Since changes in processing could negatively impact downstream performance, Erica maintains knowledge of a broad range of topics such as casting, forging, welding, and corrosion, so she will know when more information is needed to solve an issue. “My education gave me the materials foundation I needed in order to understand the fundamentals of the base material issues our vendors are seeing,” she says.
The ability to produce larger and more complex castings and forgings widens the aperture of American vendor capabilities. “Success with these parts teaches vendors new processing techniques that they can use in other areas of the business,” Erica explains. Additionally, these complex forgings and castings often used to be welded assemblies on past classes, and making them into one piece makes them easier to install for the tradesmen welding the boats together.
Though challenging at times, Erica’s enthusiasm for her job is evident. “One of my biggest personal goals is to always continue to learn,” she says. “Working on the challenges associated with meeting higher base material standards allows me to continually learn more about base material processing, forming, and fabrication.”
Erica graduated from UConn with a B.S. in 2012 and worked on her M.S. part-time, completing it in 2015. As an undergraduate student, she worked in Professor C. Barry Carter’s group, where she learned some of the most valuable skills she utilizes. “I loved working in the MSE labs, whether it was during class or while working for Professor Carter. The skills I gained using the SEM have allowed me to perform analyses I would be otherwise unable to do,” she says.
While she was located in the Connecticut Electric Boat office, Erica was involved with two high school Project Lead the Way programs in Portland and Southington. “I was on both schools’ Partnership team, which helped guide future program goals, and I spoke to students from both programs about being an engineer,” she says. Project Lead the Way is a national pre-engineering program that allows high school students to learn about various engineering disciplines so that they are better prepared for college engineering classes. Outreach is very important to Erica: “If it weren’t for some of the people I was mentored by early in life, I might not have chosen an engineering career path. Because of this, I enjoy working with students so that they can succeed in their careers, whether they chose engineering or another field.”
Prior to joining Electric Boat, Erica was an industry advisor while working as a process metallurgist at Ulbrich Stainless Steels & Special Metals. Erica enjoyed working with and mentoring students. “I greatly enjoyed being an industry advisor as it allowed me to work with a student on an issue our company was having,” she says. “Mentoring that student and seeing their progression throughout the year through both their presentations and papers was very rewarding.”
Though Erica is not currently planning on pursuing a Ph.D., she continues to learn and overcome challenges in her field. “My professional goal is to continually challenge myself and learn more. I find that having this as a goal, in lieu of a particular project or job position, has allowed me to become involved in many interesting projects that I would not have been able to work on if I was following a strict career path,” she says.
Erica has some advice to share with students as well: “I would advise undergraduates to consider taking a variety of MSE electives, as materials engineering covers a broad range of topics. Having a basic understanding of many of those topics allows you to move both within and between companies and projects, and therefore opens you up to a variety of opportunities.”
While she is currently focused on steel base materials, Erica has also worked on welding, materials development, and new materials joining processes, which she would not have been able to do without a broad foundation from UConn MSE.