A rising tide
ODU aims to lift all boats in global maritime industry
When it comes to Old Dominion University’s role in the maritime industry, Nancy Grden has high aspirations.
“We’re not globally recognized today,” says Grden, associate vice president of ODU’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, “but that’s our goal.”
ODU’s leaders decided on that target following the 2019 efforts of an economic development catalyst task force that Grden co-chaired. The group’s members, she explains, came out “with a very strong recommendation” that the region and the university focus on the maritime industry as a key sector for growth.
Work on that task force led ODU to create the Hampton Roads Maritime Collaborative for Growth & Innovation (HRMC) last year with Grden named as its inaugural executive director. Leaders from local business, the U.S. Navy and economic development make up the collaborative, which has the mission of prioritizing and pursuing long-term maritime economic development and innovation opportunities in Hampton Roads.
One of eight initiatives set by the collaborative is raising ODU’s prominence in the industry.
In addition to her other roles, Grden serves as special assistant to ODU’s president for maritime initiatives and as the co-chair in the ODU Maritime Initiative Leadership Work Group. “It looks like a lot of jobs, but they also connect,” she says.
The work group includes 14 representatives drawn from ODU’s different colleges, its graduate school and its Office of Research. “Our job is to recommend to [the university president] and our university leadership what specific things ODU can do today, but also going forward, to be globally recognized as an institution focused on maritime,” Grden says.
The group’s first order of business was to take inventory of what ODU already offers the maritime world. The answer: more than 60 undergraduate, graduate, certificate programs or academic centers related to the industry.
While some of ODU’s offerings include the word maritime in their name, casual observers would be harder pressed to identify other programs that work closely with the industry, such as ODU’s School of Cybersecurity. Even so, the maritime industry has a gargantuan need to protect its systems and networks, such as the security of ports, transatlantic cables, unmanned vehicles and supply chains.
The Coastal Virginia Center for Cyber Innovation (COVA CCI) at Old Dominion University, which opened in 2019, is one of four nodes of the larger state-funded Commonwealth Cyber Initiative. Its mission is to close the cybersecurity workforce gap and to spur the commercialization of cybersecurity research, with a particular focus on the defense, transportation and maritime industries.
In February, COVA CCI announced it had awarded nearly $1 million in grants to cybersecurity research projects. One of those projects is led by Rafael Diaz. A research associate professor in ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center, he’s examining cybersecurity at the Port of Virginia.
At ODU’s Strome College of Business, scholars are also working to raise the university’s profile within the maritime industry. Last year, the American Association of Port Authorities invited ManWo Ng, associate professor of maritime management, to form a strategic partnership designed to increase industry awareness of academic research.
“Disseminating our research to
130-plus port authorities in the Western Hemisphere has really helped strengthen ODU’s maritime reputation among industry professionals,” Ng says.
Moving forward, Grden says, ODU leaders will build upon the university’s existing maritime industry work: “A lot of the reason for doing this is to connect the dots.”
There are numerous avenues where ODU can bring innovation to the maritime industry, Grden says, including shipbuilding, the Navy, the development of offshore wind farms, transatlantic cables and adapting to climate change.
“When you add this all up,” she says, “there’s a lot of capacity and a lot of opportunity in this region.”