Feature: Designing People

Monday, February 09, 2004

By Larry Pearson

Few would argue with the notion that a healthy commercial marine industry needs new naval architects entering the business of designing and engineering ships and offshore structures. New naval architects bring new technology and a fresh way of looking at old problems.

The University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME) produces a dozen or so people per year who have mastered this very difficult subject.

At any given time UNO has about 145 people enrolled in the NAME program leading to a Bachelor's degree, the most students in any program of its kind. The school also offers Master's and Doctorate degrees in the field. There are currently 18 students in the MS program and three in the aspiring Ph.D candidates. The first Ph.D was graduated in May 2003.

The NAME program was begun in 1981 due to the efforts of Charles Wall, Sr., a self-professed "idea man" and shipyard owner. Wall encouraged the university and local shipbuilders to establish the program to provide naval architects to the local shipbuilding and offshore industry so area students would not have to go 1,000 miles away to Michigan or New York to get their formal training.

In 1985, Wall, who did not go to college, received an honorary doctorate degree from UNO, only the seventh such degree that the university has awarded. In 1987, the school moved into a new nine story engineering building that many professors in NAME say resembles a ship complete with a nine story glass enclosed area at the "aft" end of the building that is a "rudder" and a area that resembles a pilothouse.

UNO's NAME program in the only one in the U.S., and probably the world, with a major research facility on the campus of one of its largest industry constituents, the Northrup Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Shipyard.

If a football team is only as good as its quarterback, then a NAME facility is only as good as its faculty. All of the full-time faculty (six professors and one more to be added) are Ph.D's from top schools and work well together as a unit in achieving, maintaining and extending the quality of the curriculum and covering the full breath of the NAME discipline.

The head of the Department is Bahadir Inozu, with his Ph.D from the University of Michigan. Three of the Professors hold Endowed Chairs: Dr. William S. Vorus, from University of Michigan, the J. Goldman Endowed Chair plus Doctors Alley Butler from Purdue University and Cliff Whitcomb, both have Endowed Chairs from Northrup Grumman Ship Systems.

The faculty also includes Robert Latorre, Ph.D from University of Tokyo, Japan and Jeffrey Falzarano, Ph.D from University of Michigan.

"Our faculty has special expertise in marine systems design, composite structures, systems engineering and marine propulsion," said Chairman Inozu, "along with particular strengths in high speed marine systems, structures, reliability, maintainability, ship production/shipyard management as well as hydrodynamics."

"While we teach the theoretical, we also stress the practical," said Dr. William Vorus. "High speed craft design and cavitation are special interests of the school. "For example, we are extremely interested in high speed craft design," Voruas added. "There seems to be a ceiling of about 40-45 knots on high speed craft using water jets. We know the Navy, along with the Army and Marines are very interested in rapid deployment vessels and would like to have craft that can travel at 50 knots or more loaded with troops and equipment, but cavitation and other problems prevent these speeds at the present time."

In addition to teaching, the faculty at UNO's NAME program are deeply committed to research and the faculty is engaged with industry in joint research programs. Current research programs include Electric Ship Podded Propulsor Dynamics, Slamming of High-Speed Catamaran Cross-Deck Structure, Resistance Prediction of Semi-Planning Ships, Hydro-Elastic Design of Surfacing-Piercing Propellers and other projects.

Most of the faculty has spent extensive periods of time with industry and the U.S. Navy and at other academic institutions such as MIT.

"We have a natural advantage with our School being located here in New Orleans," Inozu said.

The School can draw on many outside professionals as Adjunct Lecturers. These are working marine experts who lend their expertise to our students," Inozu added.

The students in UNO's NAME program tend to be older and more mature mentally with marine experience in the New Orleans area. Twenty-seven year old freshmen are not unusual in this program. "We do take students right out of high school with the right math and physics background," chairman Inozu said.

A key feature of the UNO NAME program is that the junior-senior students are spending several hours a week employed at local shipyards, U.S. Navy Installations, design firms or the offshore industry. "We are so close to dozens of employers who need the knowledge our students have, these student internships are a win-win situation for everyone," Inozu said. Most of the UNO graduates remain with the employers who hired them as interns, although some remain at UNO for advanced degrees.

A recent graduate, Sacha Wichers was the first Summa Cum Laude graduate of the undergraduate program at UNO NAME. Ms. Wichers, from Slidell, La. graduated with a 4.0 GPA and received a scholarship from the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME) to continue her studies at MIT specializing in hydrodynamics and autonomous underwater vehicles.

One of the main teaching aids at UNO NAME is specialized laboratory facilities including a 128-foot by 15-foot by 7-foot deep Towing Tank for model tests of ships and offshore structures in calm water and waves as well as in shallow water with a current.

The UNO structural test system is a 20-foot by 20-foot by 10-foot high space frame with computer controlled hydraulic actuators for testing aluminum, steel and composite ship structural components. Also for student teaching are a Computer-Aided Ship Design Lab, a model shop and a marine engineering laboratory.

Off campus is the UNO-Avondale Maritime Technology Center of Excellence that houses the Simulation Design Center, which promotes electronic visualization, numerical simulation and virtual reality in marine design and construction.

The four-story 200,000 sq. ft. Center is a unique partnership between the State of Louisiana, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Shipyard and the University of New Orleans to develop, refine, implement and teach advanced technology in ship design and construction.

The state legislature pledged funds to construct the center and it will create and preserve 4,018 jobs directly and indirectly from this partnership.

The first major project supported by the Center was in executing the $641 million contract that called for the design, construction and support of an anticipated 12 ships of the LPD-17 Class, the next generation of Navy amphibious ships. Avondale has launched and christened the first ship in the class San Antonio, and has others under construction.

The Center has expanded UNO's Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering curriculum to include advanced technologies and to incorporate an on-site Shipyard and Production component into student coursework. The course load in the School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering is truly a load. Freshmen take 35 credit hours that include mostly math, physics and beginning NAME courses. The sophomore year is 32 hours that does include some non-engineering courses that are needed to satisfy the General Degree Requirements of the University.

The junior year is a real load with 19 hours in NAME courses, 17 hours in engineering courses with one economics course. For Seniors, there are 31 hours of course work including 17 hours of NAME courses, one engineering course and 10 hours of elective courses so the student can satisfy General Degree Requirements.

One of the fun projects that the students participate is the Solar Splash competition held in Buffalo, NY. Universities from around the world design and construct a vessel using solar power and compete in sprint and endurance competitions. UNO successfully defended their title as Sprint champions, an honor they have held five of the past six years. The UNO craft covered the 300-meter course in a winning record time of 25 seconds. Their boat used an all-composite hull, electric motor and three high efficiency 12-volt batteries and weighed less than 400 pounds without the driver. The vessel reached an astonishing speed of 40 MPH.

The future of the School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering seems solid with more joint research projects between government-industry and UNO. A teaching innovation begun in 2003 holds much promise. Dr. Cliff Whitcomb started offering his systems engineering course from Avondale Shipyard with a compressed video link to Ingalls Shipyard and UNO's Lakefront Campus, resulting in the largest graduate course enrollment in the department's history.

No wonder the Princeton Review called the UNO program "the best in the nation."

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