US Naval Academy Students Pursue Nature-Based Design for Senior Capstone Project


U.S. Naval Academy Campus in Annapolis

For many, reminiscing on college courses brings memories of dimly lit lecture halls, scribbling to copy lengthy notes from PowerPoint slides, and the strain of staying attentive throughout an entire lecture. For a group of seniors in the US Naval Academy’s Ocean Engineering program, their senior capstone class paints a different picture - one that includes experiential learning under a crisp September sky analyzing the energy of waves breaking on the headland structures of dynamic living shorelines, observing native plant placement, and considering the way the public will interact with a restoration project. The Senior Capstone is a year-long project in which students must create an engineering design for a specific site, going through the entire design process including evaluating site conditions, conducting an alternatives analysis, and drafting technical design drawings. This hands-on experience gives students a chance to explore an engineering design problem that piques their interest while they test their wings in a real-world engineering scenario.


An increasing number of engineering students at the Naval Academy are becoming interested in resilient, nature-based coastal protection systems according to Dr. Tori Johnson, Associate Professor in the Department of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at USNA. This year a select group of Ocean Engineering students embarking on their senior capstone project will use the Havre de Grace Water Street Restoration site as their conceptual design location as they dive into the niche of protecting coastlines in a natural way. You won’t find any concrete walls or rigid bulkheads in their engineered plans; these students are focusing on the power of resilience through dynamic design.


USNA students at Kyle Point Dynamic Living Shoreline

The capstone students spent an early-autumn day exploring two of Underwood & Associates’ shoreline restoration projects. The tour began at Water Street Restoration, which is an in-progress restoration along part of Havre de Grace’s extensive city-owned shoreline. The students will be using this site as their blank canvas to design their own version of the town’s ideal living shoreline restoration. Viewing the current design provided inspiration, yet their completed projects will be uniquely their own. Next the students journeyed back down to the familiar setting of the Severn River to walk the Kyle Point Dynamic Living Shoreline. This 2-year-old project on private property helped students envision what a project can look like after just a few years of working with the dynamic forces of nature. After a busy day of asking well-thought-out questions and absorbing as much information as possible, the simple idea that hit home the hardest with these inquisitive engineering students was that a sea wall is the strongest it will ever be the day you install it, but dynamic living shorelines get stronger with every passing day and year. We are so excited to see the final product these creative, bright students come up with when they present their final design in May.


USNA students with U&A staff, Ellie Chetelat and Amy Hruska, touring Kyle Point Dynamic Living Shoreline

USNA students at Water Street Restoration with Chris Becraft of U&A