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ODU's Verma Receives NSF Grant to Aid in Teacher Education For Shipbuilding Industry

In these difficult economic times, there are still jobs to be found in the shipbuilding industry. These jobs are at the higher end of the skill scale, engineers and technicians with expertise in ship design, stability and shipyard efficiency.

If America's shipbuilding industry is to compete with the lower wages paid by shipbuilders overseas, it will be in these skilled-trade areas. They key is having a supply of workers ready to fill those jobs.

That's where Old Dominion University's Lean Institute comes in.

Alok Verma, the Ray Ferrari Professor of Engineering Technology and director of ODU's Lean Institute, has received a three-year, $775,000 grant from the Advanced Technological Education program of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Starting October 1, Verma and his team will create and plan two-day workshops for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instructors from community colleges in three areas where shipping and shipbuilding is important - northern West Virginia, Gulf coast Louisiana, and Hampton Roads.

The project, entitled "Collaborative Research -- Marine Career Tech: STEM Careers in Shipbuilding and Marine Industry," is under the direction of Verma; Han Bao, mechanical engineering professor; and Sueanne McKinney and Daniel Dickerson, assistant professors of educational curriculum and instruction.

Under the proposal, 15 instructors from three community colleges will receive the intensive, two-day course, starting in summer 2011. The goal is for those instructors to take the lessons and pass them down to middle and high school teachers in their area, with the ultimate aim of turning on students at an early age to the idea of a career in the shipbuilding field.

"Because of global competitiveness, unless we improve the workforce skills in this area, these jobs are going to go overseas," Verma said. "Shipbuilding is something that is vital to our strategic national defense. We have to come up with way to ensure the skill sets are retained and improved."

The community college partners in the initiative are Marshall Community and Technical College in Huntington, WV; South Louisiana Community and Technical College in New Orleans; and the Mid-Atlantic Marine Academy in Hampton Roads.

Only one commercial shipyard, near Philadelphia, is currently building ships that will ply the overseas shipping trade. But Verma said a lot of the value-added items connected to the ship-construction industry - things like shipyard efficiency, environmental issues involved with ship construction, and disaster investigation - can utilize expertise from anywhere.

Those areas of expertise are among the lesson plans that are taught to teachers in Verma's "MarineTech" project, lessons that ultimately will be taught to students, in an effort to convince more math- and science-inclined students to look at a career in the shipping industry.

The NSF grant will help Verma build on the four lesson plans he's already drafted for STEM education, adding two more - environmental issues in shipping, and marine biology.

There will be follow-up assessment of both the teachers who receive the seminar training, and the students who end up receiving the lessons, as part of the NSF proposal.

The kits that are being produced will actually be distributed following the seminars to middle and high school science and math teachers, positioning ODU and its community college partners as a hub of marine technology teaching expertise.

The seminars also represent a continuation of the national shipbuilding career day, which Verma's group has hosted for the past two years at ODU.

This article was posted on: October 6, 2009

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