Penn College grad enjoys 'smooth sailing' with career

October 05, 2020

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — As a kid, Richard M. Wood spent countless hours constructing with Legos and playing with remote-controlled boats powered by electric motors. As a Pennsylvania College of Technology alumnus, his days are devoted to creating with computer-aided design programs and working on the largest “boats” in the world powered by nuclear energy.

Wood, of Millville, is a structural designer for Newport News Shipbuilding, the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The 2017 graduate works for the Shielding & Ship Fabrication section of the company’s Reactor Plant Planning Yard Department.

Richard Wood - Penn College

Richard M. Wood, of Millville, is a structural designer for Newport News Shipbuilding, the sole designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. In his role, the Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate designs the foundation and structure of cabinets and enclosures that house enhanced mechanical and electrical systems for the Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. 

IMAGE: Provided / Richard Wood

“I’ve always had a passion for boats and boating,” said Wood, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering design technology and an associate degree in engineering CAD technology. “I figured this would be a good chance to get experience in the field. What could be cooler than working on some of the largest and most complex ships in the world?”

Ships like the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier. Wood has boarded it on a daily basis since April when he accepted an eight-month assignment devoted to the massive carrier, which is more than three football fields in length, accommodates a crew of about 6,000 and holds up to 90 fixed-wing aircraft.

Wood serves as a liaison between his department and the Navy while the ship undergoes maintenance and upgrades. He oversees aspects of the work (specifics can’t be provided because of security reasons) and reports any problems to the home office in Newport News, Virginia. The 100,000-ton flattop is stationed at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

“This position helps me understand more than just the structural world that I’m used to. It exposes me to other disciplines,” Wood said. “I get the experience of communicating with our customers and learning more than the design phase. I get a better look at the cradle-to-grave process, from planning to execution.”

In his regular role, Wood designs the foundation and structure of cabinets and enclosures that contain enhanced mechanical and electrical systems for any of the Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. He works closely with engineers to devise the most efficient and cost-effective designs and creates 3D models and 2D drawings of those designs while following company and government standards.

“The software I use at my job is the same software that we were taught in school,” he said. “I would not have gotten to where I am today without Penn College. Everything I learned in school has made my job so much easier.”

When he arrived at Penn College, Wood planned on obtaining a two-year degree in business management before transferring to Penn State for engineering. He soon changed his mind.

“I enjoyed my first semester at Penn College so much that I looked into the different bachelor’s degree programs there. That’s when I found the engineering design technology degree,” he said. “It was exactly what I wanted to do. It had aspects of engineering and math as well as a little bit of art and creativity. It seemed like the perfect fit.”

It was. Wood excelled in the classroom and lab and became a mainstay on the Dean’s List, graduating with a 3.92 GPA. His effort left a lasting impression on his instructors.

“He was an awesome student who was very dedicated in achieving academic success,” said Katherine A. Walker, assistant professor of engineering design technology. “Richard’s experience perfectly articulates the possibilities that await our graduates.”          

“Richard was simply a very hard worker,” added Craig A. Miller, instructor of engineering design technology and department head. “He finished assignments completely and accurately, often going beyond what was expected in an effort to ensure that his work was the best it could be. Richard was the type of student who you knew would be successful in whatever field he chose.”

According to Miller, the variety of fields graduates can choose from is a chief attribute of the engineering design program.

“If you have a passion for a particular industry, it’s likely that a need exists for design and technical drawing within that industry,” he said. “While it may sound cliché, our degrees give our students an opportunity to work within an industry that they love.”

The college’s Career Fair helped Wood gain entry to the shipbuilding industry. He applied for a designer position at Newport News Shipbuilding prior to the Career Fair and followed up by connecting with a recruiter at the biannual event. Less than a month after graduating, he was working full time at the company, the largest shipbuilding enterprise in the U.S. with over 20,000 employees.

“My professors and classes made me very prepared to enter the workforce,” Wood said. “Penn College is committed to using the most up-to-date technology being used in industry. That was coupled with small-class sizes and professors who cared about the students. For me, the result was a quick, easy and seamless transition into a great career.”

He’s currently enhancing that career by working on another bachelor’s degree. This one will be in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Old Dominion University. Wood plans to combine that expertise with his extensive design experience to benefit Newport News Shipbuilding and eventually fulfill a personal aspiration.

“I would eventually like to design sailing yachts,” he said. “That has always been a dream of mine.”

If his future bearing reflects the past, Wood can expect smooth sailing.

Penn College offers bachelor’s degrees in engineering design technology and industrial design, as well as an associate degree in engineering CAD technology.

For information about those and other majors from the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520 or visit

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Visit, email or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

Last Updated October 05, 2020