Patrick Pasteris is a veteran, a UMassD College of Engineering alumnus, a School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST) staff member, and a graduate student. Now, he works to disrupt the ocean tech market while creating meaningful learning opportunities for younger students.
A nontraditional college student
“I grew up right here in New Bedford in a family of hardworking people; my father was an electrician for the city of New Bedford and my mother was a bus driver for the New Bedford public school system. Higher education was not necessarily a given for me. I chose to enter the military in order to one day be able to pay for college, and I served in the United States Air Force for two years. I attended Bristol Community College before enrolling in the Mechanical Engineering program at UMassD.
“In many ways I was different from my classmates as an undergraduate. I was a few years older, I was a veteran, and I had been in the working world for several years already. This had its ups and downs. On one hand, I had more life experience, so I had already learned how to manage my time and juggle different responsibilities. But at the same time, I also felt a need to ‘keep up’ with my younger peers. That gave me ambition and drove me to conduct research.”
Patrick describes the camaraderie among his classmates, even though they came to the program from different walks of life: “The whole class really worked together rather than competing against each other. We would share knowledge, hold each other accountable, and help each other succeed.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree in 2016, Patrick joined the staff at SMAST and resumed his studies as a master’s student in Mechanical Engineering.
Tell us about your research.
“My project is the Aurelia Upper Ocean Profiler (UOP), a vehicle for gathering data from the upper layers of the ocean. Conditions in the top layers of the ocean change frequently and need more frequent readings than deeper depths. With these types of profilers, the bulk of the cost comes from the sensors that are attached to the vehicle. We’re taking advantage of newer technologies such as a reduction in the size of the sensors to make our smaller vehicle possible. This will not only cut down on costs but will also provide greater ease of use than what you find with a lot of the technology on the market today.”
Why is this project worth investing in?
Ocean data is important for so many different things: understanding fish stocks, monitoring algae blooms, measuring changes in temperature and salinity, and listening for underwater signals. Ocean data informs weather prediction, which is crucial for preparedness that can save human lives. Weather predictability is key to the stability of millions of people’s lives around the world.
Globally, there’s a push for more ocean data, so much so that the UN proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development from 2021-2030. The biological health of the ocean is key to sustaining human life and healthy ecosystems. That's not to say that one device can solve all the world’s problems, but it can be one piece of the puzzle.”
Disrupting the ocean tech market: How is Aurelia different?
“We’re trying to disrupt the market. The Aurelia UOP would be less expensive and more user-friendly, with virtually no training required to use it. If you can use a cellphone, you can use this profiler. This type of device could be loaned out for all kinds of purposes without the expert technician to go with it.
“We work with scientists and other end users to learn about the problems they have with their existing technology and try to address those problems with our design.”
Creating educational opportunities
Patrick’s work creates enriching educational and work opportunities for younger students.
“We ‘hire’ capstone design teams from the College of Engineering to contribute to this project. They can come from mechanical, electrical or computer engineering. We’ll give them one aspect of the profiler to improve. Students can work on and take ownership of one piece of the puzzle. And because we’re an academic sponsor, the students become part of something that is of and for the university. We take care to ensure that we’re providing a creative and important experience for them.
“In that way, Aurelia is not just a product, but also a great teaching and training tool.
“It also introduces students to the ocean technology field. The SouthCoast area is a hub for the ocean tech industry to grow thanks to the funding going into blue economy, and people need to be trained for it.”
What are you most proud of?
“The work I’ve done on my house! Because of my UMassD engineering degree, I was able to do all kinds of work on my home with my own hands. Living in something of my own creation is incredibly satisfying. It’s an homage to my partner and to the life we’ve built.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about returning to college?
“When you’re a nontraditional student, it can be scary to disrupt your life. But if you’re not comfortable with your current life, or if you feel stuck, education can change things. For me, it really turned my life around. It gave me a career I never would have had. Because I had my degree - something no one could take away from me – I became less afraid of failure and gained more confidence. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”