Headshot of Mackenzie Hilburn

Mackenzie Hilburn

ROV Engineering Intern
Undergraduate Student
Missouri University of Science and Technology

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

I recently joined my university's Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing research group, which specializes in advancements related to solid electrolyte lithium-ion batteries. Despite not initially having a strong background in the field, the short time I have spent learning about the inner workings of battery cells has given me a new appreciation for the chemical and mechanical engineering required to create a power cell. The project I am currently helping with aims to use chemical properties of battery electrolytes to increase the efficiency and longevity of batteries; this project has taught me that no experiment goes exactly as planned, and thinking on your feet is a vital skill to have! Although it can be challenging, being involved in research has really opened my eyes to the many avenues for exploration that are available in engineering disciplines. I am especially interested in structural batteries, and I hope to eventually research the applicability of this technology to ROV engineering.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I have always wanted to be an engineer. I love building, designing, and coming up with solutions to interesting problems. However, it was not until recently that I realized I wanted to work with unmanned submarines. When I started university I was involved with the Underwater Robotics design team, which designs ROVs to complete tasks centered around ocean conservation and exploration. The year I joined was the first year the team went to competition, where we ended up ranking fourteenth worldwide. My sophomore year, I led the mechanical division of the team, which focused on solving the unique problems of designing a craft to operate under extreme pressures and temperatures. This experience proved that ROV engineering is the career path I most wanted to follow.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My family and friends have always been my strongest support network. Their encouragement and understanding has helped keep me on my chosen path and made me into the person I am today.

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

For me, the most exciting part of ROV engineering is the applications it has. I have always loved exploring, and the ocean is a frontier that is full of fascinating creatures and hidden worlds. I remember watching a video of a diver exploring Cenote Angelita, the underwater river, and thinking that I would love to visit a place like that-- via robot, because I am not a very strong swimmer.

How did you get involved with Ocean Exploration Trust? How did you become part of the expedition team?

I have followed the E/V Nautilus on social media for a long time. While watching the videos and livestreams on their YouTube channel, I learned that there were intern positions available on the ship and applied.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

My undergraduate research position as well as my sophomore year internship with a hydraulic manufacturing and repairs company have both influenced my current career path. In particular, being a hydraulic repairs intern gave me the skills to excel in challenging and unpredictable work environments. In both of these experiences, I found that knowing what you're doing is only part of the job— it is just as important to keep on learning as you go.

What are your degrees and certifications?

International Baccalaureate Diploma -- Munich International School 2021

Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering -- Missouri University of Science and Technology (in progress)

What are your hobbies?

My favorite hobbies are reading, writing, listening to music, and spending time with friends. I also recently picked up the habit of collecting comic books.

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

Try new things and pursue opportunities outside your comfort zone. You never know where a path can lead you until you walk it, and gathering experiences and knowledge as you go is the best way to learn where you want to end up.


Mackenzie participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: