Crane offers unlimited possibilities for engineer

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Matt Kay, second from right, works as a chief engineer in microelectronics in Crane’s Global Deterrence and Defense Department’s cutting-edge SPECTRA lab. Here, he is pictured with his sons, Noah and Aidan, and his father, Mark.


CRANE — As a pre-calculus student at Jasper High School, Matt Kay, a 1999 JHS graduate and current Jasper resident, discovered his dream of working at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division about 40 miles north of Jasper. He never believed that dream would become a reality. It did.

Kay works as a chief engineer in microelectronics in Crane’s Global Deterrence and Defense Department’s cutting-edge SPECTRA lab with Northeast Dubois graduate Matthew Gadlage. Kay describes the lab as a “micro Silicon Valley.” In the SPECTRA lab, the two Dubois County men support the U.S. Navy with their work in cutting-edge technology. Kay loves his work, and he wants to share his story as an example of the opportunities available to Dubois Countians close to home.

“You don’t have to go to the East or West coast — you don’t have to go to Silicon Valley — to work with cutting-edge technology,” Kay said.

Kay describes his path to Crane as “circuitous,” but it all started in Karen Stenftenagel’s pre-calculus class. Stenftenagel always took her calculus class to tour Crane. Much to his dismay, Kay hadn’t scheduled his math classes in a way that allowed him to take calculus in high school. But he really wanted to go on that tour, so he made sure he had an A in pre-calculus, worked hard and asked Stenftenagel every day to make an exception for him. Finally, she caved. On the tour, Kay saw Crane’s facilities for the first time, and met engineers and scientists working on the base. The experience stuck with him, though it would be about a decade before he made it back to Crane.

After high school, Kay attended Vincennes University for one year before finishing his undergraduate work at Wabash College. Then, he pursued a master’s degree from Purdue University in physics before working for several years at Alcoa making bottle caps, known to engineers and physicists as “closure systems.”

“There’s a lot of physics in making sure the caps don’t blow off,” Kay said.

Finally, he got the opportunity to work at Crane. He worked as a contractor with the base for one year before signing on as a civil servant. That was 10 years ago, and he’s never left.

During his tenure at Crane, Kay returned to Purdue to pursue a doctoral degree in physics through NSWC Crane’s Ph.D. Fellowship Program. He graduated from his doctoral program on Dec. 16.

Getting a doctorate isn’t the only opportunity Crane has given Kay. Through his work, he’s also had the opportunity to travel the country working with leading technology and defense experts, to work on cutting-edge technology, and, most importantly to him, to serve his country and community.

“The sky’s the limit with Crane,” Kay said. “If you have a good head on your shoulders and you work hard, you’ll do great things for your country and our community.”

Kay also stressed that the work isn’t easy. It takes perseverance, and there are weeks he works 60 hours. People tell him his wife, Brandi (Mehringer), must be a saint. The couple lives in Jasper with their two sons, Aidan and Noah. Kay’s parents, Mark Kay and Alexandria Meyers, also live in Jasper.

To get through the challenges, Matt Kay relies on his determination, sets goals and takes time to reflect. In the end, the struggle is worth it to him because he and his teammates create technologies that have never existed before.

For current students who share his dream of working on the cutting edge, he has the same advice his father gave him growing up: You have to show up, you have to work hard and you have to work well with other people.

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