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Staff Stories—Connor Tennant

Most seven-year-olds spend their summers riding bikes or building blanket forts, but Connor Tennant found his joy in the water.

Born and raised in Howell Township, New Jersey, Connor grew up as the oldest of two siblings, dueling it out with his younger sister to get chores done around the house. “Growing up, my sister and I were like ‘oil and vinegar.’” Connor recalls. “We’re all good now but had our share of sibling rivalries.”

During the summers, he split his time between the Garden State and visiting his grandparents in Florida. Connor remembers endless summers of swimming, scuba diving, biking, exploring the water, and becoming a world-class Canasta player. “I would say hanging out with my grandparents definitely helped me mature,” he says. “Maturing meant getting really good at playing Canasta.”

When Connor entered high school, he attended the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (M.A.S.T.) in nearby Sandy Hook, NJ. With a curriculum heavily focused on the marine sciences and engineering and U.S. Naval history, M.A.S.T. provided Connor the opportunity to learn about careers on the water. “At M.A.S.T., I got my first taste of ocean engineering and marine construction with the variety of classes that I took,” Connor says. “One of the things that did it for me was when I designed a fully submersible remote-operated vehicle for my senior capstone project.”

Two people in a helicopter
Connor (Oil) and his sister, Celeste (Vinegar), smile for a selfie before their helicopter departure.

Entering his senior year at M.A.S.T. and motivated to pursue a career in Ocean Engineering, Connor applied to several universities that offered the major. After visiting several schools, he chose to attend the University of Rhode Island (URI). “I chose URI because they had the nicest campus and a diverse student body, but also because they offered a scuba diving program,” Connor explains.

A person standing in front of the Kinderdiijk Windmills
Connor in front of the Kinderdiijk Windmills in the Netherlands.

At URI, Connor hit the ground running as he took on a full schedule consisting of general requirements and Ocean Engineering courses. On the days when he wasn’t learning about Ocean Measurements and Instrumentation, he found work on campus. “I got a job at Ram Computers to earn some money so I can go out and enjoy myself,” Connor says. “Whatever money I earned and saved up, I was ready to burn through it during the summer.”’

From his sophomore to senior year, Connor divided his time between studies, internships, and any activities that allowed him to work near or on the water. Memorable events include conducting research on the RESEARCH VESSEL (RV) ENDEAVOR. “I got really involved with research trips on the ENDEAVOR during my junior and senior year,” he says. “I got the chance to work with Oceanographer and Ocean Engineer Dr. Chris Roman, who was a lead researcher for Bob Ballard, the person who discovered the Titanic shipwreck.” Passionate about developing his knowledge and skills in Ocean Engineering, Connor also enrolled in an early master’s program offered to undergraduate juniors.

In his senior year, Connor received an internship to work with MIKEL, INC, a small naval defense contractor, to help submersible vessels identify mines in the water using sonar technology. Although much of the work was simulation, the responsibility was challenging for both seasoned employees and twenty-year-old interns, according to Connor.

After completing his first season internship at MIKEL, Connor researched several companies for employment opportunities after graduation. He learned about Manson Construction Co. from a classmate and was encouraged to visit their booth at URI’s upcoming annual Career Fair.

When Connor arrived at the career fair, he headed straight to Manson’s booth, meeting Senior Survey & Guidance Electronics Engineer Donnie Smith, who helped explain the organization’s rich history in the marine construction and dredging industry and its core values. “I met Donnie and a few other representatives from Manson and learned a lot about the company during our conversation,” Connor explains. “Shortly after, I received a call from Donnie, and before I knew it, I was flying to Manson’s Jacksonville office for an interview.”

A person standing by dredge equipment
Connor posing next to the GLENN EDWARD's Z-Drive at the shipyard in Mobile, AL.

At the Jacksonville office, Connor interviewed with Vice President & Chief Engineer Mike Warwick, Survey Manager Ken Quiñones, and Marc Stearns. “The moment I got to the office, Ken was coaching me all the way up to the formal interview,” Connor remembers. “The interview went great, and we had a nice lunch. I still remember getting the call that I got the job, and I joined the Jacksonville office as a field engineer after I received my master’s degree in 2011.”

Connor’s first assignment sent him to Mobile, AL, to help oversee the GLENN EDWARDS at dry dock. The assignment exposed him to the day-to-day operations of a hopper dredge, talented craft workers, and skills to remain productive and supportive at any project site. This experience would help him find success with several assignments, including the Galveston Harbor and Channels Houston Ship Channel project and the Freeport Harbor, Texas Entrance Channel, Jetty Channel, and Lower Turning Basin in Texas. “At the beginning of his career, Connor was put into different environments on both the marine construction and dredging side,” Mike says. “He’s very sharp, adaptable, and was quick to learn how things operate.”

Two people of pose with an award
Connor accepting WEDA's 2023 Young Professional of the Year award in Las Vegas, NV.

In 2013, Connor transitioned to the Equipment Engineering Group. His new responsibilities included providing support to improve existing equipment, delivering innovative solutions for new equipment and upgrades, and maintaining oversight with vendors during the fabrication phases. “Connor and I first worked on the Craney Island Spill Barge to design a patent for a spreader plate,” says Project Manager John Henriksen. “Connor is an incredibly competent engineer who displays a strong methodology for calculations and a wide understanding of mechanical solutions. That project was the first of many designs and projects we would work on together.” With an already busy schedule, Connor also signed up as a member of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA)—encouraged by John— to continue educating himself and to network with professionals in the dredging industry.

In 2018, Connor joined the Production Group as a production engineer to help Mike and John build the team. “Most people don’t know that there are two sides to estimating a project,” Mike explains. “There’s the cost side to figure how much we need to spend on a project and there’s a side to it that you need to figure out how much material crews need to grab on a dredging project. That’s the Production Group.”

With the help of Mike and John, Connor worked diligently to find the best approach and method to complete tasks efficiently for the Production Group, including finding the best solutions to sequence regional jobs, piledriving and pumping production rates, and payloads. “To put it plain and simple, a Production Engineer’s job is helping find the right tool and materials for a project,” Connor says. “We work hand-in-hand with the estimators to improve efficiency on projects and determine lessons learned on similar jobs.”

With a heavy workload in the Production Group and his WEDA membership still going strong, Connor found time to co-author an article on The Gravity of Fall Protections Use: An Analysis of Available Data with John. This would be the first of many research papers that Connor would author.

Three people on a beach
The Tennant family enjoying a day out by the water. (L-R) Melissa Tennant, Connor, and baby Adeline.

Reflecting his tremendous efforts, Connor received WEDA’s Young Author award in July of 2023, as well as WEDA’s Young Professional of the Year in recognition of his hard work and contributions to both WEDA and the marine construction and dredging industry,

After 12 years at Manson, Connor is heading the production group after being promoted to Production Manager in July 2023. According to Connor, his new role will allow him to coach young production engineers, helping them develop their skills and find success. Reflecting on his time at Manson, Connor is motivated to keep contributing to the industry. “I’m currently working on my MBA at the University of Florida as well as drumming up solutions to keep the production group efficient in our work,” he says.

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