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Ode to the Modern Mariner

Sailing the seven seas of U.S. maritime education
University Business, Jun 2008

EVER SINCE REVOLUTIONARY times, America's schoolchildren have learned about the central role the merchant marine has played in the nation's defense, transportation, and commerce. Whether in times of war or peace, the U.S. merchant marine has secured our ports and the safe passage of commerce across the seas. In World War I, and especially in World War II, our merchant mariners navigated treacherous U-boat infested waters and risked loss of life in service to the American military.

Of the merchant marine, Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult, and dangerous job ever undertaken."

These rigorous institutions offer regimental discipline, highly structured study, and cutting-edge academic programs.

Originally under the U.S. Maritime Service's purview, contemporary maritime education has transformed into a seamless network of venerable institutions-augmenting the <b>U.S. Coast Guard Academy</b> in New London, Conn., and the <b>U.S. Naval Academy</b> in Annapolis, Md. As we peer over the horizon in the new millennium, we witness a fast-morphing global marketplace-mixed with random acts of terror, modern-day piracy, and environmental catastrophes rapidly crossing national borders. Our Coast Guard and Navy can no longer ensure safe passage and commerce around the world without the help of a well-trained merchant marine fleet.

Today, American mariners are educated at seven maritime academies: <b>The California Maritime Academy, Great Lakes Maritime Academy at Northwestern Michigan College, Maine Maritime Academy, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, State University of New York Maritime College, the Texas Maritime Academy of Texas A&M University at Galveston,</b> and the <b>United States Merchant Marine Academy</b> (N.Y.).

Administrators, faculty, and staff at these institutions work hard and smart to prepare the next generation of officers, crew, and experts in marine science, technology, and engineering. What our modern midshipmen learn goes far beyond navigation and seamanship to cover liberal arts, humanities, global business, energy, environmental studies, and military history-and of course, safety, security, engineering, operational sea skills, and maritime leadership and marine management competencies.

These academies are rigorous educational institutions whose missions convey regimental discipline, highly structured study, and cutting-edge academic programs. Cadets earn a degree while they pursue a U.S. Coast Guard, Merchant Marine engineer's, pilot's, or mate's license, or a naval officer commission.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, established at King's Point, N.Y., in 1943, is the culmination of years of effort to institutionalize the training of citizens for merchant mariner service. Its creation followed the tragic loss of life in the 1934 fire on the Morro Castle passenger ship, which moved Congress to pass the Merchant Marine Act in 1936.

Today, USMMA programs in marine transportation, technology, logistics, engineering, systems and shipyard, and business management prepare cadets for progressively responsible positions they will assume in marine transport, engineering, and international business.

Admiral Joseph Stewart, USMMA's superintendent, shares that, over the past several years, the USMMA and the <b>New York Institute of Technology</b> have teamed up to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon Competition in Washington, D.C. Relying on teamwork, creativity, and ingenuity, USMMA midshipmen and NYIT students created a solar house in a class of its own-the only solar house designed and built to utilize a hydrogen-based energy storage system.

SUNY Maritime allows students the flexibility of participating in regimental activities as a cadet or remaining a civilian while pursuing licensure and maritime degrees. Joseph C. Hoffman, vice president of academic affairs and provost, says, "The international nature of the maritime industry and SUNY Maritime College's close relationship with industry brought the college to create two very unique higher education programs with an international flavor. The Master of Science in International Transportation Management is one of a kind in the United States and is one of only a handful of programs like it in the world. At the baccalaureate level, SUNY offers a Bachelor of Science in International Transportation and Trade that is particularly attractive to two-year college graduates with associate degrees in international business, management, and finance."

SUNY Maritime's Admiral John Craine highlights the international nature of SUNY's programs, in which not only the course material is international but increasingly the students are, as well. "It is no surprise that these programs attract a large number of international students. In the graduate program, 30 percent of the students are international students, mostly from maritime nations. The undergraduate programs have large cohorts of Turkish and Bahamian students."

Maine Maritime Academy, started in 1941, invites cadets to major in marine engineering, transportation operations, international business and logistics, small vessel operations, or small craft design and systems-or become certified to teach marine biology and/or marine science. In our conversation with Admiral Leonard Tyler, Maine Maritime's president, we learned that the institution is also home to the Tidal Energy Device Evaluation Center, whose mission includes becoming a world-class testing center for marine-based renewable energy devices.

Located at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy claims to be the oldest U.S. co-ed maritime college. Its cadets prepare for all aspects of international maritime business, transportation, marine safety and environmental protection, and marine engineering. Going beyond the safety training license-seeking cadets receive, Mass Maritime is unique for its emergency management concentration, at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Mass Maritime's marine safety and environmental protection program matches the needs of the cruise ship industry.

Captain Brad Lima, dean of academics, tells us that the marine safety and environmental protection program matches the needs of the cruise ship industry, which requires a health and safety officer aboard all commercial vessels. "The industry can't get Mass Maritime graduates fast enough," he says.

At Great Lakes Maritime Academy on Grand Traverse Bay in Michigan, students can attain U.S. Coast Guard licensure as Third Mate Great Lakes and Oceans, First Class Great Lakes Pilot, or Third Assistant Engineer. Students can also earn a bachelor's degree in business administration from <b>Ferris State University</b> and participate in the U.S. Naval Reserve and Merchant Marine Reserve. Admiral John Tanner, the institution's superintendent, says that Great Lakes offers a somewhat unique specialty program in piloting, in which students learn to navigate through dangerous or congested waters-an essential skill for navigating the Great Lakes.

On the Gulf of Mexico, Texas Maritime Academy provides traditional engineering and transportation majors, a host of marine science majors, the charm of a small school environment, plus Coast Guard engineering and deck licensure and reserve officer opportunities. The institution's university studies degree focuses on maritime policy and business, admiralty, labor, environmental, fish, and wildlife law.

The superintendent of Texas Maritime, Admiral Allen Worley, explains that because it is a branch campus of Texas A&M University at Galveston, it can offer a masters of marine resources management and masters and doctoral-level degrees in marine biology. In addition to getting a top-notch scientific education, baccalaureate marine biology and marine science students have the option to become licensed-and, as an added incentive, Texas Maritime Academy grants in-state tuition to any U.S. resident enrolled in a licensing program.

Cal Maritime, located in Vallejo, Calif., has been delivering maritime education for nearly 80 years. As part of the <b>California State University</b> system, it focuses on business and engineering, maritime policy, transportation, and logistics for the U.S. Pacific Rim and beyond. In our conversation with Admiral William Eisenhardt, president, we discovered that Cal Maritime offers a distinctive Bachelor of Arts program in global studies and maritime affairs, which centers on the ways the maritime world impacts history, literature, art, politics, economics, and human culture.

Merchant mariners have been the heartbeat of America's shipping for over 200 years. Our nation's steadfast presence on the high seas protects our liberty-and drives the global economy. From sails to steam to nuclear propulsion, merchant marine education has proven to be essential to the defense and prosperity of our nation and has placed us ahead of the learning curve in oceanography, environmental science, international trade, and global security. Yet as emergent nations develop and struggle to compete for use of our planet's finite resources in the face of natural disasters, terrorism, and environmental catastrophes, Americans will depend more than ever on the preparedness and capacity of the next generation of merchant mariners.

<em>James Martin is a professor at Mount Ida College (Mass.). James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance. Their book is</em> Presidential Transition in Higher Education: Managing Leadership Change <em>(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).</em>