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Class of 2020 Capstone

  POSTED ON: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 9:45 AM by LT Kiefer W. Bohn

On March 19, the Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Adm. Sean Buck indefinitely delayed the return of the Brigade of Midshipmen back to Annapolis and to the Yard. This decision was made due to the undeniable concerns of COVID-19 and the dangers it posed to our future naval leaders, as well as to the faculty and staff that support them. Many of the midshipmen expected to say final goodbyes to their classmates before shipping off to their first duty stations and were anticipatory of the long- awaited hat toss on graduation day.

For the Class of 2020, Capstone Day would have brought to close a yearlong academic and research-oriented accomplishment, designed to test the midshipmen as they concluded their time on the Yard.

“Capstone Day is a crowning achievement for midshipmen who have embarked on an ambitious and independent capstone and research project that involves creative design, fabrication, and actual system operation and demonstration,” said Lt. Cmdr. Casey Rayburg, Capstone Day Coordinator.

Midshipmen entering their final semester are tasked to research and present topics related to their chosen field of study to a gallery of peers and faculty while working alongside one another and their academic advisors. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented nationwide shutdown, the Class of 2020 was forced to present their work in a virtual environment.

“It is a bridging of multiple skills that are learned over the course of four years,” said Associate Professor Dr. Brad Barrett, a project advisor in the Oceanography department.  “It is an opportunity to link together ideas and techniques and apply them to a final project.”

Overall, there were 278 capstone projects, independent research projects and Trident Scholar projects presented on April 20 by the Class of 2020.  The Capstone project is a requirement for graduation and commissioning, and represents a snapshot of the incredible work done by those graduating from the Naval Academy.

Projects this year included the development of a Multi-Functioning Law Enforcement Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) to assist police officers in doing their job more efficiently and safely; analyzing and collecting data on football helmet collisions to learn more about concussions and in-game health monitoring; analyzing the eroding shoreline in the Florida Keys by creating a modular living shoreline that utilizes both grey and green engineering options; and even a demonstration on how varying economic development levels of a nation impacts renewable energy capabilities and policies.

Midshipmen 1st Class Abby Ebersole, Caroline Kelly, and Meer Syamansoori’s project focused on the investigation of microplastic pollution in the Severn River.

“What really interested me about this project was the rate at which our samples were contaminated by microplastics,” said Kelly, an oceanography major and future surface warfare officer (SWO). “Even when we were working in as controlled of an environment as possible, it was evident that even our shirt fibers caused some level of contamination. It was fascinating to take a global issue such as micropollutants in our oceans, and bring that concept back here to Annapolis and the Severn River.”

Syamansoori and Ebersole echoed Kelly’s sentiments, adding that what appealed to them about this project was the hands-on nature of the work, including going out on boats and manually collecting the samples from the rivers.


Midshipman 1st Class Meer Syamansoori on the Severn River holding a plankton tow for sampling.

Brianna Tracy, an instructor of Practical Applications in the Oceanography Department and the academic advisor to the team, was amazed by the group’s knowledge and creativity while conducting their data collection.

“This project was a distinct opportunity to try and establish a protocol that could be repeated in the future,” said Tracy. “The team ultimately designed a unique collection tool that will be implemented and utilized specifically at the Naval Academy.”

Barrett was the project advisor to Midshipmen 1st Class Diego Caballero and Jimmer Swanson on their project looking at the variability of ocean currents in the Bay of Bengal on the sub-seasonal timescale.

“Their initiative and ownership of the project and their ability to critically meld enormous amounts of data into a cohesive presentation was very impressive,” said Barrett. “They were able to wade into uncomfortable waters and remain calm, demonstrating excellent teamwork and communication abilities; all skills that will prove invaluable as junior officers in the fleet.”  


Midshipman 1st Class Midshipman Diego Caballero (left) and Midshipman 1st Class Jimmer Swanson analyzing and compiling data for their Bay of Bengal project.

Caballero, a future SWO, and Swanson, a future Marine aviator, both said they found the most interesting part of their project was the effect the phases of the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO) had on ocean currents.

“You don’t have many ocean currents that reverse direction and being able to see that in relation to the MJO on a much smaller timescale in the Bay of Bengal was fascinating,” said Caballero. 

Through the COVID-19 crisis and the challenges, the Class of 2020 adapted and persevered to see to completion of their research and work that required countless hours of dedication and creativity. Though Capstone Day was cancelled, the work that these students have accomplished will no doubt be a cornerstone in their future endeavors as future Navy and Marine Corps officers.