Being a “Constant Learner” Propels Rachel Gaines

Rachel Gaines replaces a transponder on top of Hercules, a remotely operated vehicle that she maintained and piloted as a robotics technician aboard E/V Nautilus from 2011 to 2015.

Rachel Gaines has had an array of technician jobs at sea and on land since 2012 when she enrolled in a marine biology course at Monterey Peninsula College in California. At that point she had earned a bachelor’s degree in contemporary music and was employed as a wildfire firefighter. Learning to surf nudged her to think about an ocean-related career.

Since then her curiosity and hard work have helped her gain technical skills – like those she learned as a technician maintaining and piloting remotely operated vehicles aboard the Ocean Exploration Trust’s Exploration Vessel Nautilus  – to propel her career.

“Just being a constant learner is really going to take you far,” is advice – practically a personal motto – that she hopes educators will impress upon aspiring technicians. Now a hardware engineer with the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Gaines started there as a civilian technician in 2018 after completing a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering from the University of Southern California (USC).

Leveraging College Opportunities 

As a student at the community college in Monterey, Gaines joined the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Club and was part of a team that participated in the international ROV competition organized by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center (MATE).  “We didn’t win any of the prizes, but it was a cool experience,” she said.

Rachel Gaines (middle in the control room of E/V Nautilus) advanced from intern to robotics technician and pilot of Hercules, a remotely operated vehicle used for ocean research.

Building and operating the ROV at the competition piqued her interest in ROVs, and led to her to apply to become one of MATE’s at-sea interns. She was placed on a team that maintained the two robots that scientists aboard the Nautilus use for research. At that point, she had not taken an electronics course and had little experience using power tools. Fortunately the education mission of the Nautilus meant all the professional staffers were very patient.

The Nautilus is operated by the non-profit Ocean Exploration Trust under the direction of Robert Ballard, the University of Rhode Island oceanography professor known for discovering hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise and the locations of shipwrecks, including HMS Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.

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