Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI) is a private, non-profit research institution located in Fort Pierce, Florida. Best known for its pioneering work in ocean engineering and technology, this MATE partner has focused more recently on aquaculture training and technologies, biomedical marine research, and environmental monitoring and analysis. The institution works in partnership with private industry on customized research, development, education, and support programs.
HBOI has working relationships with many government agencies (such as the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), major industries (such as Harris Corporation, a semiconductor company), and the U.S. military. Its 500-acre campus is home to over 300 scientists, technicians, and engineers and dozens of premier research and development facilities.
"Harbor Branch employs marine technicians in many important - and varied - roles"
Work at the Institution is divided among eight divisions: ocean engineering, aquaculture, marine science, marine operations, biomedical marine research, environmental laboratory, marine education, and dolphin research. In ocean engineering, ROV technician training is a particular interest. HBOI is currently investigating the possibility of working with industry to create ROV training programs.
The marine operations division schedules, maintains, and operates Harbor Branch's fleet of oceanographic research vessels and manned submersibles. The environmental laboratory provides services for a wide range of needs including marine dredging support, sanitary landfill monitoring, potable and waste water analysis, and pesticide residue testing.
Marine Technicians at HBOI
Harbor Branch employs marine technicians in many important - and varied - roles. It operates three submersibles which deploy undersea monitoring instruments and collect organisms and bottom samples from deep continental shelf and slope sites (300-1000 meters). Submersible pilots need good technical skills, but they also need to problem-solve where a difficult situation may never have arisen before, such as an instrument that malfunctions or a small leak that develops in an o-ring while a submersible is on a mission. "Piloting a sub is one of our most demanding jobs," explains Dr. Sue Cook, HBOI's Director of Marine Education.
Marine technicians also work as chemists in the environmental laboratory. As an example, they might look for hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination in collected samples. Patience, precision, and the ability to operate sophisticated instruments in a repeatable fashion are all important skills for these positions.
Technicians in HBOI’s marine engineering division have helped develop robot devices that act as underwater vacuum cleaners for water retention reservoirs. Technicians have also helped create “manatee safe technology” – special gates and other equipment that protect these endangered marine mammals from machinery in Florida’s waterways.
"It operates three submersibles which deploy undersea monitoring instruments and collect organisms and bottom samples from deep continental shelf and slope sites"
HBOI as a MATE Partner
Harbor Branch brings a unique perspective to the MATE partnership. “We are a good member of the team because we bring a business perspective and we are also connected to an education center, yet our viewpoint is different from that of a community college or university” explains Dr. Cook. “I think it’s a good combination of traits.”
HBOI also plays a role as a creative liaison within the Florida region. “We are in a good position to link together industries and educational institutions in this region,” says Cook. As an example, HBOI used the opportunity of hosting the January MATE Partner meeting (see article, page 1) to invite representatives from many Florida community colleges and universities who have shown an interest in the MATE Center to participate in that event.
Some of the MATE Center’s resources are being developed with help from HBOI employees. Career profiles based on HBOI technicians will be available on MATE’s web site in early spring and will be incorporated into MATE’s interactive career database. The Institution is also developing an internship manual describing the structure of a successful marine science/marine technician internship program, based on its experience and that of others.
The HBOI-MATE partnership is not a one-way street, however. “Our marine operations people are interested in not having to train people every step of the way,” explains Cook. “They’d like to be able to hire people who already possess basic skills such as water safety and basic electronics, for example.”
“We may well want to hire graduates of some MATE programs,” she continues. “It benefits us if we don’t have to spend money and time bringing people up to speed in all these areas.”
“I like the idea of the MATE Center being a place where people without a B.A. or Ph.D. can get knowledge of the marine field and practical, hands-on experience,” says Cook. “At Harbor Branch we have people at all levels working to advance the knowledge of the oceans; all these people are really essential.”
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