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Old Dominion University will be able to offer scholarships to 30 or more high-achieving marine engineering students with a $600,000 grant it has received from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant seeks to bolster a domestic shipbuilding industry that struggles to be competitive in the global marketplace.

Oktay Baysal, dean of ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology and the grant's principal investigator, said the new scholarship program will support efforts underway at the college to produce more marine engineering workforce professionals, and especially those whose skills are needed by public and private shipyards in Hampton Roads.

By ramping up its marine engineering concentration, the Batten College "is responding to the needs of our community and our stakeholders," the dean said. "The university is committing significant resources and we already have enthusiastic student interest." The university's commitment in this area is reflected by its recent establishment of the Institute for Ship Maintenance, Repair and Operations (ShipMRO), he said.

The NSF award will also help ODU strengthen its new focus on the design of smaller, faster and smarter ships, including the ones required to protect our ports and coastlines as part of the country's homeland security initiative. "Most marine engineering and naval architecture programs in other universities support the traditional maritime requirements for big bulk vessels," Baysal wrote to NSF in applying for the grant. "ODU's niches are its focuses on shipbuilding and repair operations for small and fast vessels in shallow water, and its well established research in naval ship maintenance."

The dean also noted that the college has longstanding relationships with Navy repair and maintenance facilities in Hampton Roads, the Coast Guard, Northrop Grumman shipbuilding and other ship building and maritime organizations in the Port of Virginia.

Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics-the so-called S-STEM aid packages that will be awarded under the NSF grant-go to highly qualified undergraduate and graduate students who are U.S. citizens or are non-citizens who have been lawfully admitted to this country for permanent residency. Undergraduate and master's program recipients can receive scholarships for up to two years and doctoral students are eligible for aid up to four years. The college will select the recipients.

Baysal believes the United States can reclaim shipbuilding and ship repair momentum by training a "new marine engineer" who is competent in multiple disciplines. He said research and instruction at ODU is excellent in fields that marine engineers will need to study: mechanical engineering, oceanography, aerospace engineering, systems engineering, civil and environmental engineering, coastal engineering and engineering technology.

"The number of marine engineers and naval architects in the United States severely lags the rest of the world," Baysal added. "Industries in this sector oftentimes turn to overseas workers for services and expertise not found in the U.S. A repair is more likely to be done in Panama, India or Japan, and private ship construction to be done in Europe or elsewhere. In fact, of the 4,000 container ships built around the world in the first half of 2005, the U.S. only built six."

This article was posted on: October 1, 2007

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