MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NNS) -- Maddie Dunton has always been a tinkerer. As a child, she enjoyed spending time with her father in their garage, helping him build wood furniture and work on the family car. In middle school, Maddie built an electronics lab in her walk-in closet.
These days, this third-generation Fleet Readiness Center East employee puts her problem-solving skills to the test as a quality engineer on the V-22 Osprey aircraft line. Here, Dunton works to continuously improve production processes to better ensure the quality and safety of the products FRCE services and provides back to the fleet.
Maddie said she loves her job – she can’t imagine doing anything else. And she set out on the road to becoming an engineer after a project at a middle school engineering summer camp sparked her interest in electronics.
“I remember, we built a speaker out of a red solo cup, copper wire, masking tape, magnets and an auxiliary cord – and it worked! It was insane,” Maddie said. “It’s the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and it was teaching us about sound and electricity. That spurred my interest: What’s in a computer? What’s in a phone? I went home and immediately set up a lab in my closet so I could take electronics apart.”
“Those hands-on projects made me realize that … engineering is also a profession where you can get paid to solve problems,” she added. “And I absolutely would not have gone down this career path without those camps.”
Maddie’s mother Camille Dunton, an industrial engineer by trade and supervisory acquisition program specialist at FRCE, said she also believes the camps played an important role in Maddie’s choice of career. Maddie always showed an interest in how things were built and how they operated, but the camps gave her the chance to investigate real-world technical concepts and access to real-world mentoring from the FRCE engineers who volunteer to assist with the camps.
“Maddie was always interested in helping with projects at home, whether in the house or out in the yard,” Camille said. “She would love to plan out the project, develop her list of materials to buy or obtain, and then build her projects.”
Michelle Smith, who first met Maddie as her sixth-grade biotechnology teacher at Newport Middle School, agreed. Smith had previously worked the engineering camp as a facilitator, and knew the program and student would be a perfect fit.
“Maddie had, even back then, an engineering mind,” said Smith, now a technology, engineering and design educator at Early College EAST High School in Havelock. “When she looked at anything, she didn’t only see the obvious; her mind could see the mechanical parts working together to produce the end result.”
Maddie attended her first middle school engineering camp as a sixth-grader and continued for two more years, then stayed with the program as a volunteer during her high school years. The Eastern North Carolina Middle School Engineering Camp, a partnership between North Carolina State University and Craven Community College – changed her perspective. According to Dr. Bill Fortney, the camp’s director and eastern regional director for engineering at NCSU, Maddie’s story serves an excellent illustration of the purpose behind the camp.
“Our goal in the camp was to give students a positive, fun experience with engineering so that they would consider it as a career choice,” he said. “They don’t even know what engineering is – it’s not even on their radar. We were trying to give them this experience and make a difference, so they would realize, ‘Hey, this is something I can do with my math and science interest.’”
By Fortney’s count, more than 850 youth had the opportunity to learn about engineering through the camp, which ran every summer from 2007-2019, and success stories like Maddie’s became more and more common.
“You’re humbled when you realize that you’re a little piece of something way bigger than you,” Fortney added. “We just had the privilege of being a part of helping these kids start on this journey that goes on. It’s great to do something like this where you see the difference.”
Maddie also wants to see her work make a difference – that’s how she landed at FRCE like her mother, and her great-uncle Lawrence Adams. But she wasn’t always so sure she wanted to follow in the family footsteps.
As a student at West Carteret High School, Maddie’s time was split between required academics, band and softball, leaving no room for engineering electives. She considered a career in marine biology – but she had always gravitated toward a more technical field. She started college as an undecided engineering major at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, leaning toward electrical engineering, when she encountered a bit of a bumpy ride.
During Engineering 1201, an introductory engineering course taken by every UNCC freshman engineer, the electrical portion of the class gave Maddie a hard time. Camille’s support helped her pull through.
“It was over my head, and I freaked out,” Maddie admits. “I thought, I can’t do this, I can’t do this … My mom reassured me. ‘You can do whatever engineering discipline you want,’ she said, ‘but I know you’re an engineer, and you can do it.’”
Despite initially wanting to forge a different path than her mother’s, Maddie decided then to work toward a degree in systems engineering, which she said is actually very similar to her mother’s industrial engineering background.
“I have not regretted that decision for a moment,” Maddie said. “I love systems engineering. I stuck with it because the day I said I’m doing systems, I committed and I did not give up. I never failed a class. I never had to withdraw – and I did it in four years.”
Once Maddie settled on systems engineering as her focus, the decision to work at FRCE seemed like a foregone conclusion. She completed two summer internships at the depot: one with facilities engineering, and another with manufacturing and process engineering on the AV-8 team. Maddie said she “fell in love” with the program, but also took to heart some advice she received from other FRCE engineers.
“They told me to try out the corporate world and make sure government service is what I really want to do,” Maddie said. She did some networking, and worked her final summer internship at Ingersoll-Rand corporate headquarters in Davidson, North Carolina.
“It was an office environment, and it was very dry compared to a production facility,” she said. “It was process improvement, so I was using my degree, and I was working on their product development process – how Ingersoll Rand introduces new products to their workforce and their plants – but the day-to-day sitting in an office did not really strike my interest.”
In the end, FRCE’s mission brought Maddie back to where she started – Newport Elementary School, Newport Middle School and West Carteret High School, middle school engineering camps and summer internships.
“I just can’t get over how awesome it is that what we do here, every day, impacts our nation’s security, and the warfighter on the front end,” she said. “Everything we do here has meaning, and that’s what drew me back in. I have a lot of pride in what we do. I’m very proud to be a third-generation FRCE employee. I’m here for a purpose – to solve challenging technical engineering problems – and that’s why I love it.”
FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,200 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $835 million. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
For more news from Fleet Readiness Center East, visit www.navy.mil/local/FRCE/.