2N: Graduate Program in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

by Alissa Mallinson


MechE’s 2N program in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering is almost as old as the department’s main Course 2 program in mechanical engineering.

The graduate program, which started in 1901 under the direction of Professor William Hovgaard and in cooperation with the US Navy, prepares Navy, Coast Guard, and foreign naval active duty officers, as well as other graduate students, for careers in ship design and construction.

Influential in the field of ship design and as a professor of marine engineering at MIT, Professor Hovgaard was a commander in the Danish Navy when he came to the 2N program. He taught several hundred Navy officers during his time at MIT and was the author of several leading textbooks on the subject, including Structural Design of Warships, General Design of Warships, and Modern History of Warships.

At the time, many ship designs were built by engineers who didn’t have experience with life on a boat or at war. Professor Hovgaard developed 2N with the idea that a prerequisite of knowledge in these areas would lead to more effective and well-built warships. Similarly, the program’s instructors have always been commissioned US Navy officers as well.

Those principles on which the program was based are still important elements of the course of study today.

“The average 2N student is coming from the fleet,” says the program’s director, Captain Mark Thomas. “They’ve gotten their commission at the Naval Academy, ROTC, or Officer Candidate School. They’ve gone to sea for four to five years, either on a surface ship or a submarine. And then they apply for this program and come back here as graduate students.”

Most post-graduate naval students attend the Navy’s own graduate school in Monterrey, Calif., but the school doesn’t have a naval architecture program, so all the naval architects go to MIT. They have all earned a technical undergraduate degree, although not necessarily in naval architecture, and they all want to become engineering duty officers, not to command at sea.

“Our graduates aspire to command shipyards, warfare centers, and major acquisition programs,” says Thomas. “Their careers involve the design, acquisition, construction, testing, and maintenance of surface ships and submarines.”


2N students present their ship designs in an end-of-year final presentation. Photo courtesy of Captain Thomas.

The program, which is competitive, with only about nine spots offered to more than 30 applicants per year, is comprised almost entirely of already existing MechE courses open to any student at MIT – with only one catch: the Navy-specific courses are held off campus at Draper Labs. It involves lessons in submarine combat systems, surface ship combat systems, weapons effects and vulnerability, and submarine concept design. The rest of the courses focus on hydrodynamics, power and propulsion, autonomous underwater vehicle control, and structural dynamics, among other things. There is a specific series of five courses that are required to earn the naval architecture master’s degree – Naval Architecture, Systems Engineering and Naval Ship Design, Naval Ship Conversion, and a capstone project – but outside of that the students are free to hone in on their individual interests.

Because of the overlap with Mechanical Engineering requirements, most students only have to take a few extra classes to graduate with dual degrees in both naval architecture and mechanical engineering. And many students now are also pursuing the Systems Design Management degree in conjunction with the Sloan School of Management. Since many graduates of the 2N program go on to become commanding officers and program managers, they are interested in gaining some business savvy as well the standard technical degrees they are required to earn.

“From the Navy’s perspective, the 2N program is a crown jewel of Navy graduate education,” says Thomas. “It has produced more than its share of officers who go on to very senior ranks, including the current Assistant Secretary of the Navy (RDA), the Honorable Sean Stackley. There is a long history of success.”



Captain Mark Thomas

Professor of the Practice in Naval Architecture and Engineering Captain Mark Thomas earned his BS in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University, his SM in electrical engineering from MIT, his NE in naval engineering from MIT, and his PhD in hydrodynamics from MIT. He is the US Navy’s senior uniformed Naval Architect. His technical contributions encompass a wide range of naval engineering challenges, from keeping today’s ships at sea and designing ships for the future to evaluating technology advancements for both today and tomorrow’s Navy.