Did you know there is a fully accredited university in Glen Cove, awarding degrees in one of the most distinctive disciplines anywhere? Even those who work there or attend classes sometimes refer to it as one of Long Island's best kept secrets.
The mystery U is the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, located on one of the former Pratt family estates at a bend in Crescent Beach Road, just up the hill from where the road ends at Long Island Sound.
The Institute gets its name from William Henry Webb who had taken an interest in boat-building as a boy, during the early part of the 19th century, and had developed his skill to the extent that the New York Herald described him as "the very first naval architect in this country."
Founded in 1889, in The Bronx, as the Webb Academy and Home for Shipbuilders, and endowed by Webb's personal fortune, the school's original mission was to provide sanctuary to old and infirmed shipbuilders and to afford an opportunity for young, gifted people, of good moral character.
By the end of World War II, the school had outgrown its aging quarters and its principals began looking for a more suitable site. They learned "The Braes," a magnificent former Pratt family estate, was available and they purchased it in November 1945. Conversion of the mansion and the surrounding 26 acres into a university campus began in 1946. The main building was renovated to include classrooms, dormitories, and offices. A basin for ship models and a gymnasium were constructed elsewhere on the campus. The school opened for classes in April 1947 and has been operating continuously ever since.
Webb is one of the few universities in the country offering undergraduate study in naval architecture and marine engineering, along with the University of Michigan and the U.S. Naval and Coast Guard Academies.
"Graduates of the two military schools tend to have different career tracks than our graduates," said William G. Murray, Webb's director of enrollment management. "They tend to have careers in the military where they review designs."
The Institute admits a maximum of 26 students each year, so acceptance is extremely competitive. The average SAT score for entry is 1370, and the four-year program is intense. Students are immersed in major course study first semester, freshman year: introduction to naval architecture, chemistry, calculus, physics, etc. If you fail a single course and can't pass a remedial program, you don't continue. On the other hand, if you are accepted, William Webb's endowment covers your tuition; you pay the $12,000 a year room and board.
Webb's student body is largely self-governing. Through a cooperative relationship between the school and the student organization, students actually help shape and implement the policies that govern their conduct. Webb's honor code mandates that students maintain the highest standards of conduct and honesty at all times. The upshot is that students have an unusually strong voice on campus.
Along with the intensive academic program, which includes work in many engineering and design disciplines, students also spend time off-property working in various phases of shipbuilding. Freshmen work in shipyards, sophomores go to sea as engine cadets, juniors and seniors work as design interns. These off-campus programs include sites in the U.S. and abroad, among the latter such distant locations as South Africa, Australia, Singapore and Dubai.
The senior year project includes designing an ocean-going vessel.
"The professor sets up the parameters," Murray explained, "the cargo, the tonnage that needs to move from say Chile to China, the budget, etc. Then he says, 'design me a ship.'"
And design they do, having built everything from the aircraft carriers of Newport-News Shipbuilding to America's Cup racers, World War II amphibious craft to roll-on/roll-off container ships, nuclear submarines to off-shore drilling platforms.
The Institute's small environment allows for a functional educational community, said Holly D. Lemoine, director of institutional advancement.
"We operate as one of the original communities of learning," Lemoine said. "Large schools try to create these smaller communities within their larger environments. We already have that."
According to Murray, 100% of Webb graduates find positions each year: "We are the bullpen for naval architects and marine engineers," he said. "This is where you come to find them."