UNIVERSITY PARK — As commander of the submarine force of the U.S Navy’s Pacific Fleet, Rear Adm. Blake L. Converse, 1987 mechanical engineering alumnus, understands the importance of creative problem solving and effective leadership. According to him, these are qualities he began to hone during his undergraduate career in the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME).
“The work ethic I learned at Penn State taught me how to succeed — I learned to work hard, keep your nose to the grindstone and never give up,” Converse said. “I think that you would see those same attributes in every Penn State ME major today. It’s what makes this program so special.”
Originally from Montoursville, he went on to earn two master’s degrees in space systems engineering and applied physics from the Navy Postgraduate School after earning his bachelor’s degree at Penn State. Now, Converse is responsible for the Navy’s undersea forces in the Pacific, comprised of over 45 ships and submarines, 11,500 sailors and civilians and a range of nuclear-powered fast attack, guided missile and ballistic missile submarines. It also includes five acoustic surveillance ships, two submarine maintenance and logistics support ships, an undersea rescue command and the global undersea surveillance system.
“I’m responsible for manning, training and directing the operations of our Pacific Fleet Submarine Force, and I work with my counterpart in the Atlantic Fleet to set the vision and develop the concepts for how the U.S. submarine force will fight in the future — concepts including unmanned underwater vehicles, extended range torpedoes, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said.
Converse is a decorated officer, earning several honors including the Defense Superior Service and four Meritorious Service Medals. In addition, he was awarded the Rear Admiral Jack N. Darby Award for Inspirational Leadership and Excellence of Command in 2008.
Reflecting on his career of more than 30 years in the Navy, Converse credits his strong technical foundation to the rigorous ME program at Penn State.
“That foundation taught me that you can solve most any problem if you approach it in a deliberate and pragmatic way,” he said. “When you jump into a career driving submarines and operating nuclear propulsion plants, your credibility as a leader is grounded in your engineering competence and your ability to learn and apply scientific concepts to a broad range of new systems. Penn State taught me those skills.”
For Converse, having Penn State pride is a family tradition. He met his wife, Amy, while they were both undergraduates and now their sons, Samuel and Ben, follow in their footsteps. Samuel graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and Ben is a current student majoring in physics.
“When we visited Penn State with them, they saw that close-knit community, they experienced the sense of honor and pride reflected in every grad and they felt the rush of excitement from traditions like tailgating and Penn State football,” he said.
When asked for his advice to current mechanical engineering students, Converse encouraged them to follow their passions.
“Find an area of engineering you love working in and commit to it with your heart,” he said. “Align yourself with a program that is solving real-world problems and find opportunities to intern or volunteer in those fields to deepen your education and discover your passion.”
He also added the academic excellence and community spirit the University can provide has the opportunity to make graduates resilient and adaptable.
“The foundation that Penn State gave me has served me well in my career,” he said. “I felt well prepared by the coursework and rigor of the mechanical engineering program.”