About 130 high school students and incoming University freshmen got a taste of naval engineering on Monday after racing makeshift submarines composed of PVC piping, foam, and small wired motors.

The race, which took place in the fountain behind the Lurie Engineering Center on North Campus, was a part of a larger event that kicked off the launch of the Naval Engineering Education Center — a University-led consortium of 15 colleges nationwide, the American Society of Naval Engineers, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and the United States Navy.

Designed to educate naval systems engineers for recruitment into the Navy’s civilian workforce, the NEEC was first established through a contract with the Naval Sea Systems Command valued at $3.2 million with an additional $49.9 million available through up to five years of optional extensions, according to a University press release.

Headlined by U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D–Mich.) and Congressman John Dingell (D–Mich.), Monday’s kick-off event also featured University Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest and David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering.

“We are now part of a concerted effort to train the next generation of naval engineers and help the Navy build up its design expertise height,” Munson said before the group of high school students and prospective freshmen in a packed Stamps Auditorium at the Walgreen Drama Center.

Munson announced in his opening remarks that NEEC students, in exchange for scholarships, will “commit to a multi-year agreement to work for the Navy.” He added that NEEC will develop an outreach program targeting K-12 students in an effort to cultivate an interest nationwide in the pursuit of engineering and science.

Steven Ceccio, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering and director of NEEC, said the center will make heavy use of project-based education to tackle Navy-defined challenges with naval engineers and scientists on hand to assist students and faculty.

“We’re going to work with the Navy to identify ongoing projects that maybe last one, two, maybe even three years that are really good platforms for education but also high-interest for the Navy,” he said.

NEEC students will work on the projects — built into their engineering curriculum — over the summer and during the normal school year, Ceccio said.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Munson said the concept behind NEEC was first explored three years ago when then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter made a visit to the University to deliver the commencement address to the College of Engineering.

“After the end of the Cold War, the country had the so-called peace dividend where we downsized the military, including some of their labs,” Munson said. “What the Navy has decided is that they really need to rebuild more of their own in-house expertise in ship design. It’s not just all naval architects, it’s also electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, industrial engineers — they just need a much steadier pipeline of some our best students.”

Rear Adm. Thomas Eccles said the Navy’s current ship-building and design efforts are the strongest they have ever been since World War II, but there exists a need to eventually replace long-established naval architects and engineers with young talent.

“We’re really here to talk about connecting educators and students to the civilian side of the Navy where an awful lot of our investment in people who solve these sorts of engineering challenges is found,” Eccles said. “We think this kind of collaboration will point out some of the attraction that exists in ship-building.”

Sen. Levin agreed with Eccles, adding that the United States needs not only “smarter ships” with reduced manpower, energy consumption, and cost but also “smarter ways to acquire them.”

Proud that NEEC will be led by the University, Rep. Dingell said he was optimistic about the collaboration and the future of naval engineering students.

“I think we’re going to see that the University of Michigan (College of) Engineering and its dedication to naval engineering and education center is going to be a continuing contribution to the world,” Dingell said.

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