By Neil Nachbar
University of Rhode Island College of Engineering alumnus Robert Hernandez has been named a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE), the nation’s highest award for scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers.
Hernandez earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from URI in 2010 and his doctorate in computer engineering from the University in 2014.
“I was in total disbelief when I found out that I won the award. As I read the e-mail further, it began to sink in,” said Hernandez in response to the award announcement made by President Donald J. Trump on July 2.
Hernandez was nominated for the award by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport, where he worked for more than 21 years as a heavyweight torpedo systems engineer. This is the first time a NUWC Division Newport employee has won the PECASE award.
When Hernandez selected the subject for his doctoral studies, he chose a topic that would help in his role at NUWC.
“My position with the Navy required that I perform research into future tentative architectures to be utilized for future systems,” Hernandez said. “I felt that the doctoral program in computer engineering at URI would prepare me to perform this research. Additionally, it had been a lifelong goal of mine to earn a Ph.D.”
The title of Hernandez’s dissertation was, “SVM-Based Volitional Artificial Leg Control Via Ubiquitous Small and Low Power Architectures.”
“The challenges were developing and optimizing software to target a small, low power Intel Atom architecture, whereas the original architecture was a full-sized tower,” stated Hernandez. “Overall, the research resulted in various papers, one of which was the guidelines of how to determine the best architectural solution to meet your system requirements. These guidelines were utilized at NUWC.”
The advisor for Hernandez’s doctoral studies was Distinguished Engineering Professor Qing Yang.
“Rob was a mature and highly motivated student, with excellent analytical skills,” said Yang.
Yang was one of many URI engineering professors who helped Hernandez through his doctoral studies.
“Not only are the professors experts in their respective fields, but more importantly, they are available to guide you whenever you hit a brick wall,” said Hernandez. “URI’s engineering faculty are ready, able and willing to provide the necessary mentorship needed to make you successful.”
Hernandez recently retired from NUWC and lives in Middletown, Rhode Island with his wife Debra. The couple is expecting to move to Brooklyn, New York in the coming months, where the engineer grew up.
The PECASE award acknowledges the contributions scientists and engineers have made to the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and to community service as demonstrated by scientific leadership, public education and community outreach.
Established in 1996, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy coordinates the PECASE with participating departments and agencies.