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Impacting Ports Through Educational Outreach

By MarEx 2013-11-05 14:37:00

Photo: Paul Anderson, Dave Sessums, and MaryEllen Elia work with Jefferson High School Maritime students on a chart reading exercise during a class visit.

Written By Jakub D. Prokop

Maritime education has found a place in our public schools.  This year, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Florida has opened a new magnet Maritime Academy at Jefferson High School in Tampa.  This academy is the first of its kind, offering students transportation to the program from anywhere in the district, and using a holistic maritime curriculum designed through a partnership with the district’s Career and Technical Education department and the local maritime community.  Most importantly, the members of the International Propeller Club of the United States, Port of Tampa, and the school district have created a sustainable relationship to encourage young people to consider a career in the maritime industry.

Mr. Paul Anderson, Director of the Port of Tampa, attended the opening of Jefferson’s Maritime Academy and stated, “After seeing the types of learning experiences being offered in this benchmark maritime program, I am very encouraged about the building of a qualified, enthusiastic workforce for the Tampa area maritime community, which is very large and broad. These young people are very fortunate to be in a school district that has recognized the value of a strong port and maritime presence here in Tampa, and that is aligning their students to be a part of a sustainable, well-trained workforce for future generations.”

This sentiment was backed by Mrs. MaryEllen Elia, Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, “I’m very excited about our new maritime magnet program at Jefferson and the work being done by our teachers and students. It’s through partnerships with the marine industry that we prepare our students to enter this highly demanding technical field.”

In agreement with the community leaders, it is difficult for mariners and others working in the maritime industry to refute the benefits of introducing maritime concepts to students in high school, as it should inspire more interest and provide young talent into the business.  As an added benefit, educational outreach has the ability to act as a communication vehicle to increase the visibility of our ports in the community.

Many maritime executives will attest to the industry as being somewhat "hidden" from public view and operating under the radar of the average citizen.  Even though the recent motion picture, Captain Phillips, has brought a bit of national attention to container shipping and piracy, most people not connected with the industry would be hard pressed to accurately describe its impact.  Ports are taking a more aggressive role and making initiatives to make the public aware of their vital economic role in the community.  As an example, the Port of Tampa has hired perhaps the first brand development vice president of any American port, Mr. Karl Strauch.  He states, “We realize the importance of raising the profile of the Port of Tampa as a long term strategy for regional development, strengthening important partnerships and telling our story to customers across diverse lines of business.  However, there is no question that one of the other great benefits of an increase in port brand exposure is its impact on a new workforce – introducing young people to career opportunities and developing the maritime employee pipeline."

Development of this employee pipeline begins with the students in our schools.  If I think back to my middle and high school experiences that shaped who I am today, they usually involved some type of field trip or extracurricular activity.  I can clearly remember how my high school automotive teacher invited a presenter from a local technical training center to speak to all the students.   As part of the show, he brought an engine with the newest fuel injection technology at the time.  In response to the presentation I began learning about electronic engine controls and ignition systems on my own and beyond the school hours.  This inspired me to learn how to take responsibility for my learning and led me to a successful career as a technician for a major U.S. automaker.  Without getting too philosophical, these are the types of experiences that shape our interests and can lead to life altering decisions. 

Let’s step back and explore the education of our children for just a minute.  Most people are very interested in what happens to their children in their local schools.  In the educational system, there are constant debates about teaching methods, standards, school performance, and teacher effectiveness.  Weekly, there are news stories about educational reform in many of our nation’s main media outlets.  All this attention on the performance of our schools also brings focus to the activities and assignments students are required to complete as part of their curriculum.  In today’s highly connected society, parents are empowered to communicate and question not only their student’s daily activities but also the instructional focus of their teachers and schools.

The maritime industry can only benefit by being present in education through supporting student curriculum and providing experiences that can change student lives.  From ships to agents, the industry is diverse and well positioned for inclusion in almost every classroom in today’s schools.  What better way to increase exposure and importance of the “hidden” maritime industry than through family conversations around the dinner table?

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Jakub D. Prokop is a Career and Technical Education program/curriculum developer.  Prior to education he worked in the automotive industry as a technician, manager, and service writer.  Currently, he works to align educational programs to local industry needs.  He is also a student at the University of South Florida working on his Ph. D. in Career and Workforce Education.  You can reach him at Jakub.D.Prokop@gmail.com.