By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University’s inaugural Maritime Symposium will bring together representatives from industry, government, military and academia for two days of distinguished speakers and thought-provoking panel discussions regarding maritime efforts in Hampton Roads and beyond, and where this industry is headed.

This symposium will also underscore ODU’s significant and growing commitment and investment in the maritime field.

Elspeth McMahon, who was named ODU’s inaugural associate vice president for maritime initiatives last July, envisions symposium participants coming away with key points.

“We are listening to the trends of what is happening in the maritime industry, and we are acting on them,” she said. “We want outsiders to be aware of that, and to know that our students will be prepared and have the right training to support this growing and changing industry. ODU is an R1 research institution. With this symposium, we want to help spark further ideas for collaboration with the University and for our faculty to continue to pursue research, projects and grants on a larger scale in the maritime space.”

The symposium will be held April 12 and 13 at ODU’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC). The in-person event is sold out but online attendance is still available; you can register at this link. The symposium is presented by ODU’s office of Maritime Initiatives, the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (ICAR), Maritime Industrial Base Ecosystem (MIBE), Digital Shipbuilding and the International Maritime, Ports and Logistics Institute, in partnership with the Virginia Maritime Association.


“We are listening to the trends of what is happening in the maritime industry, and we are acting on them.” - Elspeth McMahon, ODU's associate VP for maritime initiatives.

This symposium, which will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, will feature panel discussions on coastal resilience, the future of the maritime industry, maritime cybersecurity, supply chain, naval maritime enterprise and maritime workforce, and will include a student breakout session. Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding and executive vice president of Huntington Ingalls Industries, will deliver the keynote address on April 12. Capt. Janet H. Days, an ODU alum who recently made history by becoming the first Black female commanding officer of Naval Station Norfolk, will be among the many speakers on April 13.

On April 12, the first panel on coastal resilience, led by ICAR Executive Director Jessica Whitehead, will “focus on what facilities are doing in this region to combat climate change and rising sea levels,” said McMahon. William Boze, engineering manager at Newport News Shipbuilding, will also speak on this topic.

“At this point, most people in this region are aware of climate change, and many are passionate about it,” McMahon said. “You can discuss it forever. Focusing on what facilities are doing now to combat rising sea levels will be a practical approach and give a good perspective to this region.”

The future of maritime industry panel will be centered on autonomous shipping, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The supply chain panel will be led by Ricardo Ungo, director of ODU's Maritime, Ports and Logistics Institute. The naval maritime enterprise panel will discuss the future of the Navy. MIBE’s Executive Director and VMASC’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Robinson will lead that discussion.

The maritime workforce panel will look at challenges, solutions and the future skills needed of the workforce in this region and beyond. In addition to local panelists, experts from the Pacific Northwest and Halifax, Nova Scotia, will discuss their successes and lessons learned.

Additionally, students from the Hampton High School Maritime Academy, Youth Sailing Virginia, and the Chesapeake Career Center will be on hand during lunch on April 12 “to show that exposure to the maritime industry starts with K-12. It is so important to reach our youth to make them aware of the exciting and rewarding careers, not just jobs, that are right here in our own backyard,” McMahon said. On display in VMASC’s SeaLab will be the only registered submarine in Virginia, from MI Technical Solutions; ODU’s Hydrone; autonomous vehicles from Tridentis; and a PEP boat from ODU’s American Society of Naval Engineers student chapter.

“This is to provide hands-on representation of some of the interesting developments with small vessels that are attainable here at ODU and in this region,” McMahon said.

A full agenda of the symposium is available here.

ODU has taken several steps in recent years to increase its efforts in the maritime space.

In November 2021, ODU announced the creation of its Maritime Initiatives to advance the University as a globally recognized institution for maritime opportunities. Additionally, the Hampton Roads Maritime Collaborative for Growth & Innovation (HRMC) released "A Pathway for Maritime Innovation in Hampton Roads," which was prepared by TEConomy Partners. This report identified major economic areas to leverage and expand the region's innovation and workforce to support the maritime industry.

In July 2022, in addition to the hiring of McMahon, ODU announced the forthcoming establishment of the University's School of Supply Chain, Logistics and Maritime Operations, a key step in elevating maritime as a signature strength as well as in responding to industry needs for supply chain and logistics training and research.