In developing a national consortium of organizations and individuals concerned with marine technology education, the MATE Center relies heavily on its partner institutions. Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) has brought invaluable expertise to the partnership, offering knowledge and experience gained from a successful, thirty-year old technology program that has produced hundreds of successful graduates who now work throughout the marine technology industry at all levels, from technicians to management and business owners.
“We often end up in a role of answering questions because of the maturity of our program, and that’s great,” says Bob Philpott, CFCC’s Dean of Technical and Vocational Education. The college has also helped other MATE partners with curriculum development, right down to providing copies of course syllabi.
"It requires a lot of effort on the part of both the school and the state, but that effort has paid off – we have a very successful program"
Cape Fear Community College is located in historic downtown Wilmington, North Carolina on the banks of the Cape Fear River. The sixth largest of the state’s fifty-nine community colleges, CFCC offers fifty different programs and has over 100 full-time instructors. “The Marine Technology Department is one of our show pieces,” says Philpott. “It requires a lot of effort on the part of both the school and the state, but that effort has paid off – we have a very successful program.”
CFCC’s marine technology curriculum is designed to provide the practical skills and academic background essential for success in the area of marine scientific support. The two most important aspects of a student’s training are extensive shipboard experience (students complete five cruises, totaling almost thirty days) and a hands-on approach to skills training. “Employers always tell us that the shipboard experience is one of the most important qualifications our graduates have,” says Ray Brandi, Marine Technology Department Chair. “Our graduates not only have the knowledge and skills they gain from ship time, but they have experienced the challenging conditions associated with this kind of work and know they can handle it.”
The curriculum prepares students to use and maintain sophisticated equipment such as electronic navigation devices, physical and chemical measuring instruments, sampling devices, and data acquisition and reduction systems aboard ocean-going and smaller vessels. “This is a generalist program,” explains Brandi. “We are not producing ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) operators or hydrographic surveyors so much as well-rounded individuals with excellent laboratory, field, and general science experience.”
The influence of CFCC’s marine technology program is clear: its alumni can be found throughout the industry. Graduates have found positions from coast to coast with a diverse list of employers, including Miami Seaquarium, the U.S. Navy, General Motors Corporation, NOAA’s National Undersea Research Center (NURC), National Marine Fisheries Service, and Lucent Technologies. “A lot of our graduates have worked their way up to management positions and now they’re hiring new graduates, so it’s an ongoing process,” says Brandi.
"We are not producing ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) operators or hydrographic surveyors so much as well-rounded individuals with excellent laboratory, field, and general science experience"
Alumni and other industry people also play a role in directing the program. A number of graduates sit on the Marine Technology Program’s twenty-two member advisory committee, which represents interests as diverse as seismic and hydrographic surveying, water quality laboratories, aquaria, the U.S. Coast Guard, and fisheries – both locally and nationally – and helps to ensure that the program stays relevant. “This is a high profile, expensive program,” explains Bob Philpott, “so that committee is very important to us. If our advisors recommend changes, we try to be responsive. That’s how we stay relevant.”
“Being a MATE partner has allowed us to expand our industry contacts even further,” says Philpott. “We do more talking with other institutions now, and that has come about from MATE. This consortium gives us all the ability to cross-fertilize our ideas with other institutions and programs, to make things better collectively.”
Even though CFCC came to the MATE consortium with the most developed marine technology curriculum of all existing partners, MATE has helped Cape Fear review and improve its own programs. “Participating in the MATE-sponsored hydrographic surveyor DACUM (Developing A CUrriculuM) process gave us feedback on what was good in our program and has given us information to incorporate into our course syllabi,” explains Brandi. “MATE has also helped our graduates, through its continued efforts in defining Marine Technician as a Department of Labor (DOL) job classification and in assigning the position a code and place in DOL’s job bank data base,” he continues. “Many of our employment opportunities get buried in a variety of categories due to a lack of acceptance and recognition on the national level, administratively, so this is a big help.”
The work that the MATE Center and its partner institutions are doing has relevance to everyone, according to Brandi. “Marine technology has applications close to home no matter who you are,” he says. “From water quality studies to fisheries management, what our graduates do touches everyone in some way.”
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