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The Naval Design team stands in the Haynes Engineering Building with thumbs up.
The Naval Design Team includes students from the Department of Ocean Engineering and the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical Engineering. | Image: Justin Elizalde
After nearly three years of remote classes, canceled events and COVID precautions, the Naval Design Team from Texas A&M University is ready to compete again. 
For the team captain, senior ocean engineering major Ben McKeig, it’s been a long but rewarding process. The location of this year’s competition — the Naval Surface Warfare Center in West Bethesda, Maryland — is finally in sight.
The Naval Design Team is focused on designing and executing submarines that are pedal powered by either one or two divers. Each year, they join students from different universities all over the world to participate in the International Submarine Races when held in the U.S. or the European International Submarine Races when held in England. The competition, sponsored by the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education, is designed to provide students with experience in constructing and operating a submarine and steering it through an underwater course.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, McKeig joined the team in fall 2020. He spent the semester attending remote meetings and working with the team on design ideas. The experience was challenging but ultimately rewarding as the team placed second in the propulsion category during the 2021 virtual competition.
While the team has not been able to compete in person for the last three years, they continue to improve the design process during noncompetitive years. When it comes to the design, McKeig explains that the team always uses a mix of previously used materials and new materials that they develop throughout the year. 
“The hull we use was built sometime around 2007,” he said. “The hull itself is old because it’s expensive and very time-consuming to make a new one, so we reuse it almost every year. The great thing about this is that we get to see what people have done in the past. The juniors and seniors can tell the sophomores and freshmen what’s going on, what we’ve done in the past that’s worked and what might need reworking.”
As team captain, McKeig is hopeful for the experience that this summer will bring during the in-person competition in Maryland. Nearly a dozen teams from all over the world will gather to compete.
“I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to compete and meet people from all over the world who are working on the same problems as us and interested in the same things as me,” McKeig said. “Being able to have something I helped with and helped design out there on that kind of a scale has been very rewarding.” 
The Naval Design Team has been an invaluable professional experience for McKeig, not only in developing relationships with other engineering students, but also in having the opportunity to interact with faculty outside the classroom. Dr. Mirjam Fürth, an ocean engineering assistant professor, serves as the team’s faculty advisor. She takes an approach of supportive guidance that allows the students to take charge.
“Ultimately, it's their project,” Fürth said. “They can take what I say on board, or they can choose to go their own way. Because the whole point of doing student-led projects is that they should be student-centric. Our role as faculty members is to support them and give them the best tools they could have in order to succeed.” 
Perhaps the biggest surprise for McKeig has been the addition of teammates from other departments. Even though the Naval Design Team initially began as an ocean engineering student organization, members now include mechanical engineering majors, freshmen in general engineering and even a marketing major to name a few. It’s an addition that has benefited the team in their design and testing process. McKeig’s goal is to see the organization continue to grow with a variety of majors from different engineering disciplines.
In addition to McKeig, the team includes Harlan Gabriel, Alois Campbell, Landry Allen, Andrew Tucker, Reif Richter, Hector De Los Santos, John Denman, Brandon Krenek, Madison LeGros, Hannah Hill, Benjamin Horn, Matthew Collier, Mark Shoukry, Eugenio Casaubon, Samuel Dorrell, David Chitwood, Connor Glenn, Cameron Ybarbo, Alexander Holmes, Dylan Calvetti, Nate Mulkey, Ethan Savage, Miranda Negrete, Ethan Eder, John Justin, Michael Rinkevich and Charles Morrison IV.
“Large-scale projects like this are very collaborative due to the various challenges. That’s why it’s vital to have a team with a variety of backgrounds,” Mckeig said. “This helps fill in the gaps that naturally occur when everyone has the same knowledge and experiences.”