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Students forgo lawn mowing and painting for submarines and ships

by Annette Trinity-Stevens

If asked what she did over summer break, Rianon Tiensvold would give a surprising answer: she simulated wireless telemetry for submarine communications.

For the junior at Montana State University, the job was all she had hoped for, and more.

"I learned so much in such a short time," Tiensvold said. "It was a great experience."

Tiensvold was one of six MSU students who interned last summer with the high-tech company Advanced Acoustic Concepts. AAC opened a new branch office in Bozeman April 1.

students photos Stephen Hunts

For $12 an hour, the students worked full-time on U.S. Navy submarine and surface ship products and Homeland Security initiatives for the New York-based company, which designs and manufactures high-tech products for the Department of Defense and other customers. The company has more than 150 employees nationwide.

"MSU has a number of strengths that complement AAC's interest," said Richard Wolff, the endowed Gilhousen Telecommunications Chair in the MSU College of Engineering. Those strengths include acoustics, software development and computer science.

Tiensvold worked as a maintenance worker at Smurfit Stone Container Corp. in Missoula the previous summer. While the pay wasn't bad, the painting and lawn mowing didn't connect with her interests in mathematics and engineering the way working for AAC did.

"Working for Smurfit was just to make money," said the Frenchtown native. "This was more to see what I will do for a career. It's a lot more related to my interests and what I hope to be doing when I graduate."

Intern Daniel Douthit of Red Lodge spent his time with AAC developing test data for submarine sensors.

"Sea tests are expensive," explained the senior in electrical engineering and mathematics. "So we simulate as much as possible with computers."

Going into the project, Douthit said he had no real expectations. Afterwards, he said he can't wait to go back. Both he and Tiensvold plan to work for the company over Christmas break and possibly beyond.

"I had a great time and am looking forward to working with them in the future," said Douthit.

Tiensvold agreed: "As of right now I plan on going back because I enjoyed it so much."

Bob Testut, director of AAC's Montana operations, said the students did an outstanding job. "These interns weren't just getting their feet wet," he said. "They jumped right in and really helped us out."

What impressed his company the most was how well the students worked with off-site managers, Testut said. AAC is a distributed company with offices in nine states, meaning the students had to work remotely with team managers in other locations.

All the interns performed "flawlessly," Testut said. For about a year, the Bozeman branch of AAC will operate out of TechRanch, a business incubator in the Advanced Technology Park near the campus. Then the company will seek its own space. Testut said the company is modeling its Bozeman office after one it established in Uniontown, Pa., five years ago. That branch now has more than 50 full-time employees and is constructing a 40,000-square foot building. AAC in Bozeman has already hired its first new employee. Stuart Howard, who graduated from MSU last spring with a master's degree in computer science, interned with the company last summer. Testut said the company will hire another employee by the end of the year and bring in 10 more interns next summer. Two will likely be offered full-time jobs.

The other three students who interned with AAC last summer were Sarah Jensen, of Pocatello, Idaho, majoring in statistics and accounting; Dustin Dunkle, of Ronan, a computer engineering/computer science major; and Colstrip native Chris Davenport, who is majoring in electrical engineering.

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