Following Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago, the University of New Orleans lost thousands of students who moved away from the flooded city. The university’s undergraduates and graduate students combined stands at 8,400 students today, less than half of what it was before the storm. Add to that a state government that has gutted its budget for higher education assistance, and you get the old boulder being pushed up a sand dune scenario.

One group that has its shoulder to that boulder is the university’s School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (NAME), part of UNO’s College of Engineering. It is one of the very few U.S. universities that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in NAME.

“This school is the only one that offers those degrees in this part of the country,” said Dr. Lothar Birk, associate professor and chair, School of NAME. “The nearest one is probably the University of Michigan. MIT doesn’t have an undergraduate program anymore.”

Dr. Lothar Birk at the school's towing and wave tank. UNO photo

Dr. Lothar Birk at the school's towing and wave tank. UNO photo

Currently, the school has an undergraduate enrollment of 120 and a graduate class of 25. About 65% of the students are from states other than Louisiana. “We are an engineering program that focuses on ship and offshore structure design,” said Birk. “Enrollment has been growing over the past four years. Most of our students have jobs lined up before they graduate.”

Employment opportunities for the graduates come from engineering firms, shipyards, yacht builders, classification societies, offshore oil and gas companies, energy companies, independent consultants, government agencies and others including the U.S. Navy. “Many of the parents are confused when their kids tell them they want to be a naval architect. They think it has to do with the Navy,” said Birk. “They learn later about all the opportunities available. And, as far as the Navy is concerned, it employs a lot of civilian architects and engineers.”

What UNO’s School of NAME offers that no other school can match is its location. “It’s in the center of 70% of the shipbuilding and offshore industry in the U.S.,” said Birk. “We are right where the ships and offshore structures are being built.”

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.