Webb Institute - A National Asset - An Update

More than a year and a half has passed since I wrote a short piece describing why I consider Webb Institute a national asset. Upon return from the Annual Meeting of SNAME, I reflected on the presentation of the Banquet speaker, Vice Admiral Paul E. Sullivan, Commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, and my observations at our Webb Annual Dinner the following evening. I was inspired to review what I wrote early in 2006, consider the state of Webb as the end of 2007 approaches, up-date you on several developments, and summarize for you the current outlook as I see it.

Many good things for Webb have transpired since April of 2006. Our enrollment stands at 91 students, probably the highest number in Webb's history. We have 24 seniors, all of whom were introduced at the Webb Dinner. They are as fine a group of young men and women as Webb has ever had in a senior class. As a part of the SNAME Banquet ceremonies the William H. Webb Award was presented to Dr. Roger Compton, Dean and member of the class of 1961. The announcement of the election of Keith Michel, class of 1973 and Vice Chairman of our Board, as the President-Elect of SNAME was another highlight. Several members of the class of 2007 were first and second place winners of a SNAME-sponsored student design competition, and they were also appropriately recognized. Finally, a 2006 alumnus delivered an award winning student paper he prepared while still at Webb.

Personal recognitions and honors for Webb alumni are tributes to our alumni as well as an important validation of the success of our mission, but they are only a part of the story. The alumni portion of our Capital Campaign is all but complete and we exceeded our $8 million goal by about 10%. We also received a very substantial gift from Crowley Maritime dedicated to the expansion of our leadership program, and named in memory of Marty Johnson, class of 1988, who lost his life while working on a Crowley salvage project. The development of our revised Strategic Plan is well under way with a goal of adoption at our Board Meeting in May of 2008.

These and many other positive developments are important, but perhaps the one thing that is most meaningful to Webb is that the projected demand for talented graduate naval architects and marine engineers is robust. Admiral Sullivan ended his presentation with a slide showing his "War for People" and a plea to the over 190 students present to consider a career in naval ship design and production. He promised a bright future, rapid advancement and only bemoaned the fact that he is competing with the Offshore Industry which can pay higher starting salaries than he can. While he didn't mention the very vibrant yachting and small boat industry, this is another segment of the maritime industry that has been growing and creating additional career opportunities for Webb graduates. The more I saw and heard, the clearer it was that this is a time of great opportunity for Webb's current students and graduates.

One of the most rewarding aspects of writing about Webb is that it has given me the opportunity to meet and/or renew acquaintances with many other Webb alumni. Your comments and input have been very helpful during the strategic planning process. Bill Blanton, class of '71 and recently elected Trustee wrote, "We must sell it [the Webb education] as the engineering equivalent of a ‘Great Books' education - by focusing on the many different engineering disciplines required to make a ship hum, we turn out applied technology's equivalent of the Renaissance Man." Bob Mende, class of '51 wrote, "Just received and read your masterfully written white paper, ‘Webb Institute-A National Asset.' I might even go a bit further and say, ‘A National Treasure.' " These are only two of numerous comments that capture the essence of Webb better than I could.

Not all of the comments were positive. Jake Kaiser, a recent graduate, class of '03, wrote, "The one word that is missing from your missive is ‘innovative.' The systems engineering approach is something I was drawn to as an applicant to Webb, but the ability to be creative, and to be nurtured along in a creative environment has been lost in this approach. Webb does an excellent job of selecting a diverse cross-section of students. Unfortunately at this point in time any creativity is beaten from the students until they turn into walking zombie's that can plug and chug their way through any job they encounter. In order to make changes to our industry students will need the ability to innovate." In contrast, another Webb graduate, Bill Hurt, class of '59 wrote, "The experience from Webb equipped me for a varied career, starting with hydrofoil ships and up to the present, avionics software for the AWACs aircraft at NATO, Germany." Joe Schetz, class of '58 wrote, "The systems attributes that you rightly ascribe to designing a ship also occur in other areas such as airplane design. That is not a negative comment, however. It does mean that a Webb education also provides a very sound basis for careers other than ship or ocean platform design."

While each Webb graduate's experience is unique, creating an atmosphere that encourages innovation and leadership is vital to the relevance of a Webb education. The overwhelming preponderance of comments and the varied careers of Webb alumni strongly confirm that our success rate is very good. The new Strategic Plan will continue to focus on making it even better.

The essential conclusion that I think is central to our future success is that Webb is as relevant in 2007 as it was in 1889 when William H. Webb founded our school. Demand for Webb graduates exceeds our ability to produce them. Starting salaries are at an all-time high, and career paths are bright. As the "flattening" of the world continues and international trade and competition grow, we must and will rise to meet the challenges. These are not just nice words. Our faculty, administration, Board of Trustees and a dedicated cadre of supportive alumni are focused on insuring the future ability of Webb Institute to fulfill its vision and mission, repeated here as a reminder of what we are all about.

VISION

To be internationally recognized as the premier undergraduate educational institution in naval architecture and marine engineering and an asset to the nation by:

  • Providing exceptional young men and women with a contemporary and comprehensive undergraduate education focused on naval architecture and marine engineering, thereby preparing them for prominent careers in the marine industry or other fields of endeavor;
  • Providing valued technical expertise and educational opportunities to the marine industry;
  • Perpetuating the legacy of William H. Webb.

MISSION

To prepare graduates for prominent careers by:

  • Providing a rigorous education in the principles of engineering and a broad-based knowledge of the fundamentals of naval architecture and marine engineering;
  • Developing skills that will enable graduates to become leaders in and making significant contributions to their chosen profession and to the social environment in which it functions;
  • Instilling in our graduates the highest ethical standards and sense of professionalism; cultivating curiosity in the arts, sciences, and humanities, and providing background and encouragement necessary to support life-long learning.

Joseph J. Cuneo
Chairman, Board of Trustees
December 2007