Jenna Ehnot photo

Jenna Ehnot

DriX Team
Graduate Student
University of New Hampshire

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

I work with autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs), which are robotic boats (think Roomba of the sea). Currently I'm working on applying pre-existing object detection algorithms to the marine environment. To train an object detection algorithm, you need hundreds or thousands of pictures of the objects you are trying to identify. For self-driving cars, there are image databases of traffic lights, stop signs, pedestrians, etc, but there's nothing like that publicly available for self driving boats. I've been taking lots and lots of pictures every time I'm out on the water, with the end goal of making our boat a better driver!

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

Since the first time I went snorkeling, I've been fascinated with the ocean. I loved watching fish come into view only to disappear back into deeper water. It made me wonder about what else could be out there, what was beyond what I could see from the surface. But much to my dismay, we didn't and still don't have many answers. In addition to this, I've always been curious about how things work and I really enjoy working with my hands. Because I liked to tinker, I started to think a career as a mechanical engineer was the path for me. But when I started looking at colleges, I found out about Ocean Engineering, and I was sold! It's everything I'm interested in, all in one.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My parents are a big part of why I love the ocean. They are both swimmers and scuba divers; they had me swimming before I could walk. I'm not sure I'd be where I am today if they hadn't passed their passion for the sea down to me.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

The most fascinating part to me is all the moving pieces that go into the equipment and technology we use to explore the sea. I find it so rewarding to learn about all of the little parts that, when put together just right, allow us to visit and understand the underwater world.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

I am a graduate research assistant at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, located at the University of New Hampshire. Luckily for me, our lab brings one of our ASVs, the Drix, out on to the Nautilus!

What other jobs led you to your current career?

During two summers of my undergraduate degree, I interned in a marine robotics lab at University of New Hampshire that focused on using open source software and hobby robotics hardware to perform a myriad of missions. I had no prior experience whatsoever but over the course of the school year I just kept showing up to meetings, curious and willing to learn, and eventually they took me on as an intern. I think the most useful skills I've learned are the most general, like how to troubleshoot and self-teach.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science of Ocean Engineering -- University of New Hampshire 20222

What are your hobbies?

In my downtime I love gardening and taking care of houseplants, and trying to play guitar. After seven years of playing I'm not sure I've gotten any better but I don't mind, it's fun anyway!

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Be patient with yourself! Much of the journey to where I am now has been very difficult-- there will always be something you're not good at, something you don't know, or another obstacle you must overcome-- but persistence is key. Remember there is no particular timeline you have to follow, you take the time you need. It is never "I can't", but rather "I can't yet". Give yourself grace and be sure to celebrate along the way, through patience and diligence I promise you are capable of more than you know.


Jenna participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: