Advanced Education in Port Management at Lamar University

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Published Oct 21, 2020 2:12 PM by Erik Stromberg

In the fall of 2015, Lamar University President Ken Evans secured funding from the State of Texas for the creation of the Center for Advances in Port Management (CAPM). Ken had recently arrived at Lamar University (LU) and was continuing to explore how the university could better serve its surrounding community. Facilities along the Sabine Neches waterway, visible from his office window, evidenced robust commerce and economic activity. How, he asked, was management being prepared to address the challenges and opportunities they faced? The response from Southeast Texas port industry leaders echoed the conversations held literally over decades within the port industry, and with the same conclusion—you largely learn to manage a port or a terminal by managing a port or a terminal.  

My background in the maritime industry is extensive and I have knowledge of port industry workforce development needs. I was the CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) for ten years, followed by the position of CEO of the North Carolina State Ports Authority for the following decade. I briefly chaired the AAPA’s Professional Development Board and continue to serve on the committee. When I was invited by President Evans to help him build the Center in 2016, I recognized the significance of his initiative and welcomed the opportunity to create advanced education for the upcoming working professionals.

Port management can be complicated. It must embrace the fact that ports can be at once local and global, traditional and dynamic, blue collar and white, high-tech and low, dependent on multiple modes of transportation, and in the case of public port authorities, managed with a necessary consideration of both public and business priorities. Generational change with the retirement of baby boomers adds to the urgency of education and training. In this space, there is a role for advanced education in port management. A broader and deeper understanding of the port industry and its web of interdependencies, along with providing focused management acumen and tools, will better prepare the next generation of port leaders.

Given a port’s multiple functions and activities, developing the masters degree curriculum presented a significant challenge! Based on the views of the industry experts who sit on the Center’s Advisory Board, as well as my own experience, we defined its 12-course curriculum. A guiding principle was to blend theory and practice, with an emphasis on real-world applications.  This is largely accomplished by having half of our courses taught by industry experts serving as adjunct faculty. Faculty from LU’s Business and Engineering colleges teach the remaining courses, with virtually every course including guest lectures delivered by industry experts.

The success of our program depends on remote learning. Our industry experts, as well as our working professional students, access our program from throughout the US and internationally through our fully online platform.

The curriculum includes strategic and facility planning, logistics, legal framework of ports and trade, terminal operations, security and emergency management, port property and asset management, and capital project planning and implementation. ‘Soft’ skills, such as leadership and team building, and communication and negotiating skills, plus risk analysis and decision making, round out the curriculum. (See lamar.edu/portmanagement for more information about the Center and our programs, which besides the MS in Port and Terminal Management master’s degree, encompass continuing education through workshops and webinars, and industry relevant research.)

Since conception, CAPM has made a major impact on the port and marine terminal industry throughout the State of Texas and beyond. Enrollment has grown in the three years since we’ve secured all academic approvals. We now near our current goal of 25 to 30 in the program at any one time. Nine students have graduated to date.

Students have been young professionals at public ports and private marine terminals in the US and Canada, warehousing and logistics managers, Coast Guard and commercial deck officers looking to come shoreside, military logisticians, among others. I think it useful to let them speak.

Our first graduate was Larry Kelley, CEO of the Port of Port Arthur, who said of the program, “It made me a better manager, broadening my perspective and giving me more tools to deal with the issues facing my port.”

Ashley Sanders, newly hired at the Port of Beaumont, describes her experience in our program as having “gained valuable insight into the port and maritime industry, learning both from subject-matter experts via live and pre-recorded lectures and from my peers in weekly discussion boards and virtual meetings..…(A) truly rewarding and enriching experience that I believe will benefit me in my career for years to come."

Ron Coddington, Port Engineer at the Port of Palm Beach, remarked, “I find the program challenging and providing new skills for how I manage my port projects and my decision-making process. I already see the value of the program as a tool to advance my career.”

Sean Fairchild, a port financial consultant now living in Bogota, Colombia, told me he searched for a program such as Lamar’s. He wrote, “It is the only port-specific graduate program in the U.S. that is focused on developing the interdisciplinary skills required of effective and impactful port managers. Students are exposed to every aspect of the port business. This is reflected in the diversity of the program's faculty, a majority of whom have been or currently are port professionals. The online structure of the program . . . is exactly the sort of collaborative, interactive experience that makes for a rich learning environment.”

As we look ahead, the Center will continue to expand its reach in North America and globally in offering its unique program to working professionals.  Curriculum will be adjusted reflecting changes in our students’ needs, the industry and its environment. This can be accomplished with greater facility through digital learning.  

Forward facing, the Center will continue to be guided by its vision, “to generate graduates who will assume leadership positions in the port and terminal operating industries.”

Erik Stromberg is the executive director of the Center for Advances in Port Management at Lamar University. He has decades of experience in public ports as a former CEO, president and consultant in port management at state and national levels. Stromberg served as CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities for nearly a decade, and he served as head of the North Carolina State Ports Authority for 10 years.

This post is sponsored by the Center for Advances in Port Management at Lamar University

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.