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Q&A with Geoff Moss ’96, Science Advisor to the Commander, Naval Submarine Forces

Mr. Geoffrey Moss ‘96 currently serves as the Science Advisor to the Commander, Naval Submarine Forces. In this role, he actively engages the broad Naval Research and Development Establishments, along with partners from Academia, Industry and other governmental agencies to identify technological solutions to capability gaps and emerging threats. Prior to this position, he served as an advisor to the Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, aligning, coordinating, and promoting research efforts and key leadership engagements in order to address the unique operational risks and challenges in the Pacific.

Mr. Moss is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, having completed both baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in rheology and non-Newtonian fluid mechanics. He earned a second Master’s of Science in Engineering Acoustics from the Naval Postgraduate School. During his academic tenure he has generated over a dozen articles in peer-reviewed journals. He maintains active involvement with the Acoustical Society of America.

Upon graduation, he completed a two-year rotational tour through Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the Naval Research Laboratory via the Naval Acquisition Internship Program. During his time with NAIP he worked with several of the analysis groups across the warfare centers, addressing coupled fluid / structural problems using numerical techniques to include the Finite Element Method and Computational Fluid Dynamics. While at NRL, he worked in the Physical Acoustics branch, specializing in UUV SONAR array analysis and design. As a career civil service engineer he has served as a Technical Direction Agent, Operational Manager, scientific research staff, and analyst. Prior to his service in support of the Submarine force, Mr. Moss worked for over a decade in the recording and theatrical business sectors, acting as senior audio engineer, master electrician and studio manager.

Geoff currently resides in Norfolk, but is fortunate enough to travel and maintain partnerships with colleagues, friends and family across the globe. Below, he shares insight about his academic and professional experiences with Brittany Collins of The Lab School:

BC: Can you briefly describe your academic/professional path after you left the Campus School?

GM: “After leaving SCCS in 1996, my family and I moved across the river to the Amherst Regional School system. Presented with the opportunity to take collegiate courses while a high school senior, I took a few physics courses at UMass Amherst and found it to be both a good fit and excellent return on investment in time and money, so I stayed for 6 years, and two degrees. I had personally invested thesis and research advisors and received training in mechanical engineering and non-Newtonian fluid mechanics (Silly Putty, corn starch, toothpaste, soaps, et cetera). From there, I accepted a position with the Navy, and it’s been an interesting series of jobs and responsibilities that has taken me all over the world ever since. I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend the Navy’s Postgraduate School for a third degree in engineering acoustics.”

BC: Do you have a favorite Campus School memory that you’d like to share?

GM: “I have many fond memories of SCCS, and the Pioneer Valley in general. Growing up with access to so many resources in such a small geographic footprint was a privilege. I can still recall ‘Blowing it Up’ (cartoon magnification),  Roman History (construction paper gladiators), Medieval History (being ‘knighted’ by Mrs. Cooney), Nature’s Classroom (1996 record holder for least ORT) and the opportunities to work in the Summer School program and local theater throughout. I’d be hard pressed to pick favorites but am fortunate to have such a large number of happy memories from which to choose.”

BC: At what point in your life did you realize your passion for science?

GM: “I’ve always been drawn to better understanding how things work, and the corollary: how might they work better? The scientific approach to problem-solving and general view of the world makes sense to me; hypothesizing about what makes people, machines, and the world behave the way it does, based on your observations and devising ways to test those theories, is very satisfying. I have always found that being open to discovery and approaching new situations and challenges– seeking first to understand, then influence– is the most effective method.”

BC: What led you to the military, and what do you most appreciate about your role there?

GM: “At the time I was graduating and looking for a job, a good friend and classmate had a family connection to one of the research facilities attached to the Navy. With a background in experimental fluid mechanics, and work location within driving distance of family, it made a lot of sense; the connection to the military provided a stable base with interesting work and room for expansion. The research arm of the Navy (The Office of Naval Research, ONR), and the Department of Defense writ large (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA), have made investments in early scientific research for decades that has paid dividends in our understandings of the world, and many of the electronics that we now take for granted. Annie Jacobsen’s ‘The Pentagon’s Brain’ details some of the programs that ended in modern society, and while many of ONR’s programs are either unsung or not discussed openly, their recognition of bright minds and promising research has led to Nobel laureates and combat hardened hardware in the field alike.”

BC: What about your work do you find the most inspiring? The most challenging?

GM: “My current position has no ‘everyday’. Each day has different challenges across a spectrum of skills, which keeps me engaged and thinking strategically. Some days I need to research and digest scientific literature as an engineer, others I need to extract information from Sailors and Marines on the challenges they face in the field. I also need to keep a library of ongoing projects and programs at the ready in order to help align interests across the myriad organizations that contribute to developing and fielding new technology. I am also responsible for articulating the needs and gaps in understanding to a diverse audience ranging from lab-coated PhD researchers, to senior military officers making decisions on the direction of the Armed Forces. Perhaps most challenging is doing so in the context of both what we, as a nation, desire to understand and, as an all volunteer force, can afford to field at a speed of relevancy. A perfect solution to, and stack of research papers in support of, a problem that is no longer relevant does not do the people in harm’s way much good.”

BC: What advice might you share with Campus School students (or alums!) interested in STEM fields? How about careers in the military?

GM: “In the same vein as the things that make my job interesting, I’d offer two pieces of advice: First, as the rate of discovery and adoption of technology increases, so does the level of integration across the various disciplines. Regardless of the specific field that sparks your interest, the ability to make progress will depend largely on the sharing of knowledge and playing off your colleagues’ strengths. I have witnessed both brilliant ideas discarded, and foolish ones pursued, based entirely on the ability to collaborate and articulate the ‘so what’ or central imperative. As a young engineer I eschewed many of the humanities and soft science courses. As I re-discover every day, being the superlative in any category, by any metric (smartest, best read, most comfortable public speaker, greatest number of publications etc.) is insufficient to accomplish goals and make progress against the challenges we all face. To quote one of my inspirations, author, aeronautical engineer, and Naval officer Robert A. Heinlein, ‘A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.’

Second, in my experience, it’s easy to get discouraged by the (almost universal in STEM) “look to your left, look to your right, only one of you will graduate” gauntlet and high expectations placed upon scientists and engineers. While natural talent certainly plays a part in choice of career, there are a few keys to success that require absolutely nothing beyond determination: showing up on time, a willingness to learn from mis-steps, performing to the best of your current abilities, and honesty in assessing where those abilities are strong and weak. To my first point, a diversity of thought and experience working in concert will make more of a lasting impact than any single contribution.”

BC: Were there any seminal influences on your career path (mentors, courses, resources, etc.), at SCCS or beyond?

GM: “I have had many people help to steer me in the right direction throughout my career. Again, I was very fortunate to have teachers (at SCCS, ARHS, UMass, NPS, and every job I’ve held) make a personal investment of their time and take an interest in explaining concepts to me in terms that I was able to understand. While it’s probably unfair to single out any one educator, the resonance of topic, and mechanisms of childhood memory formation being what they are, I would note the “Simple Machines” learning unit from Mr. Weiner’s 6th grade description of gears and levers being as influential as Professor deBruynKops ellucidation of thermo-fluid systems design.”


Compiled and edited by Brittany Collins


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