Port of entry
Universities offer logistics, maritime degrees
By all accounts, the Port of Virginia and the overseas shipping industry as a whole are major economic drivers in the commonwealth, with an upward trajectory expected to continue.
For fiscal year 2022, the port’s TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) container volume hit a record 3.7 million units, a 14.7% increase from 2021, which marked its own record. According to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the state has more than 4,600 supply chain operations, and the dredging underway in the Norfolk Harbor to create the East Coast’s deepest and widest commercial shipping channels is likely to spur more economic growth after it’s completed in 2024.
At the same time, the port’s ecosystem is driving a need for more engineers, analysts, attorneys, supply chain specialists, and operations and logistics managers. Here are a few of the four-year and professional programs at Virginia’s universities that are helping fill that demand.
Old Dominion University
Its proximity to the Norfolk-based Port of Virginia terminals positions Old Dominion University for near-seamless integration of students and graduates into Hampton Roads’ career-rich maritime ecosystem.
In late 2021, the university announced its ODU Maritime Initiative, a multilayered blueprint to assert the school’s regional leadership in the industry. The initiative incorporates a host of goals, including a plan to expand maritime-related degree offerings, conduct actionable research and build closer connections with the industry and the Hampton Roads community.
Last July, ODU hired Elspeth McMahon as the inaugural associate vice president for the university’s Maritime Initiative. McMahon notes that ODU is moving to establish the new School of Supply Chain, Logistics, and Maritime Operations. As of February, the program was under review by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
“The goal is to have this independent, interdisciplinary school stood up in 2024,” McMahon says. The initiative involves maritime leaders to advise ODU’s curriculum development. “We’re really trying to look at what is needed now in the industry and will be needed in the future,” she adds.
ODU’s program offerings already include a minor program, a bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s degrees in maritime and supply chain management through the Department of Information Technology & Decision Sciences. The school also offers a certificate in maritime, ports and logistics management in the same department.
University of Virginia
Those looking to specialize in admiralty law, which combines domestic maritime laws and international laws governing ocean ships, have limited options for top-shelf programs in the U.S. — such as those at Tulane University or the University of Hawaii — and may pursue other reputable programs abroad.
But the University of Virginia School of Law does dedicate specific attention to maritime law in a one-week introductory survey, a January session taught by Professor George Rutherglen, who primarily “emphasizes relationships between private parties, individuals and corporations.”
Rutherglen, who also specializes in employment discrimination and civil rights, notes that other U.Va. law courses incorporate connections to maritime law, such as international civil litigation and national security topics, while not falling specifically under the maritime heading.
“We have a sizable contention — not large, but sizable — of veterans who come to law school, and invariably everyone who was in the Navy or the Coast Guard expresses an interest in my course,” he says. His next admiralty law survey course is planned for January 2024.
Virginia Commonwealth University
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a nearly 28% rise in demand for logistics professionals in the United States through 2031, notes Jeff Smith, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Supply Chain Management and Analytics within VCU’s business school.
“The Virginia Employment Commission puts that number at 29% for the commonwealth,” Smith says. “Those are just the numbers for the logistics category, while other categories that are addressed by our curriculum are also rising.”
To meet this curve, he says, VCU plans to create a full-fledged undergraduate major in supply chain management, a proposal currently under SCHEV review.
VCU offers a postgraduate degree in the discipline, Smith adds. “It’s an accelerated master’s degree that is 30 hours, and aspects of it, specifically in the logistic side, cover maritime port operations [and] warehousing, those types of aspects.”
The business school also offers a 12-credit certificate in supply chain management, but Smith says a bachelor’s degree program would help stem the risk of a brain drain, since students currently look elsewhere, such as Tennessee, for undergraduate degrees in logistics.
The “Amazon effect” — aka consumers’ high expectations of quick, convenient delivery of products ordered online — has created a drive for bigger freight trucks, as well as bolstered infrastructure to handle faster and more deliveries.
Virginia Tech’s Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering covers a range of tracks — bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees — that allow students to modify their curriculum goals to specific technical interests.
Stefano Brizzolara, hydromechanics professor and assistant department head for graduate studies, as well as Crofton faculty fellow, says ocean engineering draws in students with a diverse spectrum of career goals, whether they wish to specialize in naval architecture, energy and environmental applications, hydrodynamics, propulsion, or vehicle and systems design. “It also covers any other technology that is meant to operate … offshore platforms for oil and gas or underwater technologies, in general.”
The rapid development of oceangoing technologies continues to generate new areas of specialization, Brizzolara notes. “There are autonomous underwater vehicles for ocean exploration, for civilian use or monitoring of coastal areas or even shore areas.”
Also, emerging energy technology offers fresh horizons for engineers, Brizzolara says. “Soon enough, we’ll get ocean-wave energy generators — devices that can convert wave energy into electrical energy.”