School of Engineering and Newport News Shipbuilding launch distance master’s program

A cohort of 55 NNS students will enroll remotely in VCU’s hybrid mechanical and nuclear engineering program

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The School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering is partnering with Newport News Shipbuilding to offer the company’s engineers a commute-free path toward a master's degree in VCU’s signature hybrid mechanical and nuclear engineering program.

Newport News Shipbuilding is the only designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines. VCU is providing instruction to a 55-member cohort of NNS employees. Content is delivered synchronously, allowing the students to take master’s level classes remotely, but in real-time with the VCU professors.

“Newport News Shipbuilding has been a valued partner in the growth of our School of Engineering,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Engineering. “We are pleased that we can thank them for their confidence in us by providing their engineers with the opportunity to earn an M.S. degree through this innovative use of distance learning.”

VCU’s hybrid mechanical and nuclear engineering program provides advanced training to support the nuclear propulsion, naval design and manufacturing operations at NNS. Students attain a firm command of principles in both mechanical and nuclear engineering, including thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer. According to Gary Tepper, Ph.D., chair of the MNE Department, that integration of disciplines yields superior, cross-trained master’s level graduate engineers to practice the integration of mechanical engineering principles with the design specifics required for advancing and application of nuclear engineering technologies.

Most engineering challenges do not fall within a single discipline.

“I think hybrid degree programs incorporating elements from different disciplines will become more common because they address the needs of 21st-century engineering. Most engineering challenges do not fall within a single discipline, so engineers with broad training are best equipped to solve these challenges and assume leadership positions," Tepper said.

The requirements for the M.S. degree can be completed in three years. All students take core classes, but can vary technical electives according to concentration in either nuclear engineering or mechanical design for nuclear engineering. Classes begin with “Topics in Nuclear Engineering and Concepts in Nuclear Engineering Analysis,” a quantitative “boot camp” designed for professionals who hold a B.S. degree. Students continue with one course per semester, a format that allows students to complete a rigorous technical program and maintain work-life balance, according to Karla Mossi, Ph.D., associate professor and graduate program director in the MNE Department.

Mossi worked closely with Newport News Shipbuilding and VCU officials to develop the program. She said VCU’s local M.S. students also benefit from this partnership because the synchronous instruction enables them to interact with professional engineers virtually and see real-world applications of course content.

Steve Ward, program manager in Newport News Shipbuilding’s Secure Engineering Systems division, is a 2015 alumnus of VCU’s MNE master’s program. He explained that the decision to partner with VCU was part of an overall strategy to improve the expertise of NNS’s engineering workforce in a very efficient manner.

“We need the skillsets that this program provides. A program like this helps us build up the technical swagger,” he said.

Mossi said VCU is pleased to help Newport News Shipbuilding achieve that goal.

“We are excited to continue building a stronger partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding to provide a high-quality master’s degree using a synchronous online delivery method,” Mossi said. “The program, while tailored to working professionals, upholds the academic rigor of this master’s degree education.”