CSU Maritime teaches students to be sailors

April 22, 2011 9:24:49 PM PDT
You might have seen it while crossing the Carquinez Bridge -- a giant white ship with a giant golden bear on it. It is a massive classroom for the state's smallest university -- the California Maritime Academy.

Cadets, not students will run the huge ship when it sets sail from Vallejo in a couple weeks.

"We're on the bridge of a ship, this is where our cadets train at sea, they come here and this is what they would expect when they graduate on other merchant ships," Capt. Harry Bolton said.

Bolton will stand watch over a crew made up of college students.

"They learn right here, this is where they learn they get to experience this at sea," Bolton said.

The at sea requirement is part of the education at California Maritime Academy, they only maritime school on the West Coast and one of six state owned facilities in the nation.

It is a fully accredited university and part of the California State University system. Students pay the same tuition as other CSU's and learn about everything from driving a supertanker to managing and designing a port to running the engines below the deck.

"More than half of the classes are hands on," marine transportation major Thomas Ballard said.

Freshmen will spend a semester living on board this ship to get their sea legs. Seniors take the ship out on the high seas before they can graduate.

"I think it's a little bit rough for people, you know, they came from home and now they are living on a ship, but it's also a good thing because it gets you more exposed to that environment," mechanical engineering major Kyle Wagener said.

The school is a throwback to a time when super-tankers ruled the San Francisco Bay and longshoremen ruled the San Francisco waterfront. It opened in 1929 and has been training shipmates ever since. Including Bolton, who spent 30 years at sea before coming back to the academy to teach.

Unlike other universities, the California Maritime Academy must follow strict rules set forth by international and national law.

Cal Maritime President Bill Eisenhardt has to balance several bosses in running this campus.

"We are unique also in that I have three bosses essentially -- secretary of homeland security, secretary of transportation and the governor of the state of California," Eisenhardt said.

Among the federal requirements, all of the roughly 1,000 students must wear uniforms, making the college campus look more like a naval academy than a university.

While some may leave for leadership jobs in the U.S. Navy, most will end up in the private sector. In fact, they tout a graduation rate of about 80 percent, roughly twice the national average. Graduation from the academy nearly guarantees a job.

"The placement rate is normally about 100 percent, but in these hard times we've dropped down to 94 percent within in a month or two of graduation," Eisenhardt said.

With that diploma comes good salaries for someone fresh out of college.

"The average salary hovers between $60,000 and $70,000, not bad for a first job out of college," Eisenhardt said.

Perhaps not surprising, most of the school's applicants are men; only 20 percent of the student body is female. Graduation day is next Saturday.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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