May 31, 2011

Rob McEwen ’05 Develops Programming and Algorithms for Army Intelligence Center

By Kevin Gray

When Rob McEwen ’05 began his career at Lafayette College, he knew that he wanted to earn B.S. degrees in mathematics and computer science, which he did. What he didn’t know was whether he wanted to work in industry or government service, or to pursue an academic position.

“After several great summers of EXCEL Scholars research, I was lucky enough to apply for and receive an internship opportunity in government,” McEwen says. “The interesting and challenging real-world problems that I worked on during that time led me to pursue government service after graduation.”

But, McEwen felt that it was important to complete graduate work before entering the workforce, so he went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from University of Virginia in 2010.

McEwen now works for the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), Charlottesville, Va., an intelligence organization under the U.S. Department of the Army. He helps collect and analyze research data from various objects that are of interest to NGIC’s audience. He interacts with military and national organizations to determine the best approach to their missions.

“In addition, I work on developing tools to help manage, store, analyze, and disseminate the knowledge gained,” McEwen says. “Being able to share our information with other agencies and work with those outside of our organization is an important part of my team’s role, as well as the organization’s mission as a whole.”

As part of a technical team, he looks at the way an object, for example, reacts to electromagnetic stimuli using sensors.

“I’ve been able to put my knowledge of programming and databases to use developing tools to help manage, store, and disseminate our data,” McEwen says. “Most of this development has occurred in a programming language that was new to me, but the variety of languages that I worked with while at Lafayette gave me the necessary background to pick it up quickly.”

In addition, McEwen says he’s started to use his mathematics skills in looking at some new algorithms for future application. Although not able to talk about specific projects, he says his assignments are both intellectually stimulating and quite rewarding. One of the challenges he and his colleagues face is the real-world impact of their work.

“Knowing that the quality and speed of our response can directly impact the mission, I want to make sure that I do my job to the best of my ability every day,” McEwen says.

As to working for this level of the government, McEwen says he’s amazed at the level of collaboration in and outside the NGIC.

“I envisioned government organizations as monolithic, stand-alone bodies trying to preserve their little niches,” he says. “While I would bet that organizations do exist that try to remain aloof, my time at NGIC has shown me some really great examples of inter-agency cooperation in support and defense of our nation.”

McEwen has already achieved his initial career goal of beginning government service and working on problems that have real-world significance.

“The problems that are the most fun and challenging are of a scientific and technical nature, so I plan to continue working in technical positions for quite a while,” he says. “NGIC is a great organization for working on interesting problems with a real-world impact. Should I eventually want to work in a different subject area, there are a lot of opportunities to broaden my knowledge and skills in order to facilitate a move.”

McEwen says Lafayette was instrumental in his career success. He says the College’s professors and programs gave him the necessary background “to pursue the postgraduate education and career in the field that I wanted. Without my experience as an EXCEL Scholar and Lafayette’s strong credentials and reputation, I don’t believe I would have ended up in the type of service position that I have found to be very fulfilling.”

One thing that has remained in McEwen’s rearview mirror is his involvement in music. At Lafayette, he performed in the Pep Band, Jazz Band, and The Chorduroys, a student a cappella group.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t found the time and place to keep up with practicing an instrument and performing,” he says. “I’m glad for those opportunities at Lafayette. Most of the friends that I still keep in touch with come from musical groups. I’m ready for the next Chorduroys reunion concert!”

[NOTE: The opinions expressed as part of this interview are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or Department of the Army. –Rob McEwen]

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