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Murphy: Community college prepares today’s youth for low-level licenses

Feb 3, 2015 04:55 PM

I just happened to be reading a newspaper commentary the other day and it got me to thinking. This particular commentary was on how self-centered, unmotivated and “direction-less” the youth of today is. Really? Some might be, but that can be said of any generation. But others are definitely not the “idle youth” as the writer might suggest.

I teach at two maritime schools in the Seattle area, and one of my jobs is to do “away classes” where I travel off and give a class. Recently I did a class in Newport, Ore., and on the way back home I happened to stop into Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Ore. This school is literally right on the mighty Columbia River.

It was right on my way anyway, so I figured I would stop in and say hello to Bill Antilla, whom I had met at a maritime job fair in Seattle a few weeks earlier. I had heard some good things about the school, but what I found vastly exceeded my expectations.

My “academic” world deals mostly with adults taking continuing education classes. Most of these classes I teach are fairly short-term and at the most last only a couple weeks. The one exception is the “Work Boat Program,” where these adult students are in a program for 2 1/2 years. But really, the Work Boat Program is more like a bunch of short classes strung together with work experience peppered in along the way.

Well, I was a bit out of my element when I stopped into the Clatsop College, as most of the students are there for a two-year degree. And most of the students seem to be young “20-somethings” on the road to their first “real” job. You can think of Clatsop as more of a “trade school” than a college. And I for one am a big supporter of trade schools.

Bill is a busy man, but he graciously spent some time showing me around the campus. Of course, we started in the maritime building. Granted, Clatsop is not a large facility, but the school is as good as any of the larger facilities that do the same thing. The maritime building is well appointed, light and airy, and is a place that is comfortable and friendly.

The maritime department focuses on lower-level licensing, along with things like BST, AB, VSO, radar observer and stuff like that. Bill told me that they used to offer classes for up to 1,600-ton master, but due to U.S. Coast Guard rule changes they no longer offer them.

One great big plus for the school is they have on the property a 50-something-foot training vessel that is just perfect for teaching young “want-to-be” mariners. This boat is a sturdy ex-commercial fishing vessel and is definitely built to take some punishment. I asked about power, and was told it has a single large diesel plus all the generator output you could ever need.

Bill and I got to talking about why a single-screw rather than a twin. And we both agreed that if you can move around a single-screw boat to where you want it to go, then a twin would be a snap. Remembering back to some of my early vessel experience, once I mastered those old single-screw boats, the rest was easy. Point well taken.

Then it was time to look over the rest of the place. Come to find out, the school offers an assortment of other “trade” instruction. They have a computer-aided design program, welding program, automechanic program, and some other stuff I don’t seem to remember. Lots of programs to chose from in a small town setting.

And the shop building was … well, in a word, spectacular! Large well-supplied machine shop. Large overhead cranes. First-class welding stalls, with something called “virtual welding replay” to study how the students did on their project. Wow … I’m not even sure if I know what that means. But it sure sounds cool!

When I was there, the welding class was building a “DC” (damage control) trainer for the maritime department out of an old boat pilothouse. When finished, it should be “good fun” for sure. But you better bring a change of clothes, as you’re going to get wet!

Did I mention the fire-training unit? Once again, all I can say is wow! Not the biggest fire trainer I have ever seen, but possibly the best-built unit I have been in. You have three full floors of different scenarios to fit most any training need. And many of the rooms have movable walls to be set as you like.

Bill gave me all kinds of information about how fast they can fire up and then vent the different areas. You want smoke? They have all you might like. Bill also explained that a computer controls everything so if a group does not do well on a certain task, they can set it up exactly the same to run it again. Now that’s very 21st century if you ask me!

And then we got around to what I thought was a greenhouse — but not really. Come to find out when they were first building the facility, they were going to have to spend some amazing amount of money to install a lift station for the sewage. With a bit of research, they found a company that builds these stand-alone self-sustaining “green” sewage plants. And when I use the word “plants,” that is exactly what I mean.

There are no chemicals, no odors, and no “leftovers” when the process is finished. All the process is brought about with real live plants. You know, those “green things.” What an elegant solution to an otherwise problematic situation. In our “green” new world, every little bit helps.

So there you have it, an answer to my earlier question about the youth of today. At Clatsop Community College, I saw dozens of today’s finest taking the steps to not only become employed in a worthwhile job, but also becoming something that is truly needed today and in the future.

Who says the youth of today has no goals or drive? If you want to see the future in action, just pop into the Clatsop Community College for a little tour. The future is there.

Capt. Dennis Murphy, of Olympia, Wash., is a longtime shipmaster and is an instructor at Pacific Maritime Institute, where he splits his time between teaching classes and working in the simulation department. He also teaches at Fremont Maritime.

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