campus encounters

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Cal Maritime Academy

CAL STATE MARITIME, Vallejo, CA (visited on 7/17/12)

This is one of those schools that I probably would not have chosen to visit if I were doing visits on my own, but it was absolutely amazing! I’m so glad I saw it! This small campus is built on a hill leading down to the Bay. The “crowning glory” of the campus is the 500-foot, decommissioned Navy vessel now docked at campus, run and operated by Cal Maritime as their training ship. Our tour-guide took us on the “Golden Bear” where we got to see the bridge, the engine rooms, and the engineering room. Many students spend a semester living on the ship which serves as their dorm (certain degrees are exempt from this) so they get used to the living quarters and know what it’s really like living on a ship for a length of time, and every summer, the ship is taken to sea for three months for training trips. They alternate between the Pacific Rim (they have a relationship with a maritime institution in Vietnam) and the Panama Canal/Caribbean area. International experience is a key component of the curriculum.

We also got to spend time in the training simulator with a 360 degree screen showing San Francisco Bay. I got to take the helm to take the “rescue boat” around Alcatraz, through a level 6 storm, and go “rescue” people from a burning ship. Students regularly participate in 2-4 hour training sessions in there. The school has three simulation rooms that can hook up to each other, so each of the three “ships” can see and react to each other.

This is a highly unique, specialized college catering to a specific crowd:

  • They enroll fewer than 1000 students, making it the smallest of the CSU schools.
  • Only 6 BA/BS degrees are offered.
  • Three of the degrees provide a track for Coast Guard Licensure.
  • They have the highest graduation rate in the CSU system at about 94%.
  • They have the highest gender imbalance (85% men) in the CSU system.
  • This is the only maritime academy on the west coast, and only 1 of 6 in the country (one is in Texas; the remaining four are on the east coast).
  • They’re required to wear uniforms during classes and other official events, and they “fall in” at 7:00am three times a week.
  • Job placement is very high (about 95%).

Because this is a specialized campus, students have a tangible sense of purpose and have to know that they want to be here. They get a lot of non-traditional students because of people realizing later what they want to do. Two of the students we spoke to were older (28 and 35) and had been out in the workforce already and were going back for a second BA/BS degree. The students we spoke to had clear career goals such as working on cruise ships or working as a civilian on Navy ships.

(c) 2012

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