Women on Water Conference Helps Female Cadets at TAMMA

For female cadets in the Texas A&M Maritime Academy (TAMMA) studying Marine Transportation, it can sometimes seem like a man’s world.  The industry of maritime transportation has long been dominated by men, but that is now changing for the better.

October of 2017 marked the ninth annual Women on the Water Conference, hosted by the Great Lakes Maritime Academy and Northwestern Michigan College.  The event, open to both men and women, gives the cadets from the seven US maritime academies a chance to come together in an exciting shared experience while attending seminars and meeting industry professionals and business representatives.

In an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men, the conference provides a unique event for the rapidly growing number of women coming into the field to connect and grow.  The conference was led by women who work onboard tankers, drill ships, cable layers, NOAA ships, with supplemental lectures by members of major industry employers, such as Conoco Phillips and Chevron. 

Perhaps the greatest moment of the conference came when Texas A&M Maritime Academy cadets got the privilege to meet with Captain Deborah Dempsey.  Captain Dempsey is famous for being the first American female to be a master of a cargo ship on international voyages and the first woman to graduate from a US maritime academy, where she graduated top of her class from Maine Maritime Academy.  She has since been a highly decorated and respected leader in maritime transportation.  Meeting this absolute legend of the industry was inspiring and showed the cadets of TAMMA how capable they inherently are and how successful they can be.


Simulated Experience, Real Results

Students of the Marine Engineering Technology (MARR) program undertake a grueling course load in order to prepare themselves for the rigors of the industry.  In order to achieve the aim of ensuring that graduates of the program are well prepared to be successful in their chosen field, the faculty has pushed hard to bring in what might be mistaken for expensive video games.

The simulators are tailored for students within the License Option of the MARR program, which qualifies graduates to serve as engineering mates aboard ocean-going vessels, licensed by the US Coast Guard. 

These simulators provide students with countless hours of hands-on practice, where they are tasked with working through the very same problems and theories that they learn in lectures.  The simulators are flexible, and can be tailored to a number of different systems.  When students make mistakes, alarms will sound and students have to utilize quick thinking and calm heads to remedy the situation.

Gerard Coleman, instructional associate professor in the MARR department, has a large role to play with students working with the simulators.  He is a big fan of what the simulators have to offer the students, and is happy to say that time split between class lectures and hands-on learning is about fifty percent. 

The US Coast Guard looks to the use of these simulators as proof that these students are capable.  “The students have to demonstrate both the skill and the knowledge,” says Coleman.  “It’s over 350 skills, learned over four years, that these students have to be able to master,” says Coleman. “It’s far better than simply learning this out of a book.”

The program is accredited by ABET, who inspects the quality of the courses and simulators.  Coleman believes that the simulators on offer help the students achieve a greater degree of success than they would have otherwise.  “83% of our graduates are working in a related field,” says Coleman. 

The coupling of the theoretical and the hands-on is crucial to the success of the students at Texas A&M University at Galveston, and the simulators are at the heart of that success in the MARR program.

Senior Project Design is the Crown Jewel for Engineering Students

The Marine Engineering Technology (MARR) Department of Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG) does things differently.  The MARR department feels that the education of engineers must be well-rounded and practical, extending well beyond the classroom.  This is, in part, due to the overall attitude of TAMUG, which makes use of the ideal location on the water to offer students in every degree program the opportunity for invaluable hands-on experiences. 

In many engineering programs, true hands-on experiences are traditionally reserved for upper classman.  “A more hands-on curriculum is better,” says Dr. Paul Potier, Professor of Practice in the MARR department. “Because we have a technology element to our program here,” Potier says, “it’s always been more hands-on than most, and it starts at the freshman level.”

Things do get progressively more intensive as the curriculum progresses, culminating in the Senior Design Capstone Project that spans the final two semesters of future marine engineers. The project is designed to create graduates that are ready to excel in their field.

The Senior Design project is the brainchild of Dr. Rudy Martinez, a well-respected veteran of both industry and the MARR department.  He feels that the extremely stringent grading process pays off.  “At the Research Symposium on campus, we’re always at the top.  It’s really great to see students respond so well to the program,” says Martinez. “Senior Design is the crowning course.”

The first semester is about identifying a customer and formulating the problem, doing the preliminary design steps, and procuring parts. “It’s a process,” says Potier.  Bringing in industry representatives with “problems”, the students are put into teams where shared responsibility is heavily emphasized.  “They learn how to work together,” says Potier, “and how to identify problems, how to work with customers, to balance the needs of the customer with design specifications.”

The second semester sees a transition to building, testing, and modifying.  Then it’s a cycle of build and test, build and test.  “And documentation,” says Potier.  “You’re always documenting.”

Before the project is completed, the students will have to build a final report, create a presentation, and demonstrate the functionality of the product, in front of peers, professors, and industry professionals.

“Former graduates are able to land jobs in the industry based off of the report they wrote for their Senior Design project,” says Martinez.  “We are shaping these young people to enter the real world of engineering, and the program is growing.”


Texas A&M Galveston Professor To Speak at Maritime Cyber Security Conference

Dr. Joan Mileski, professor and department head of Maritime Administration at Texas A&M Galveston will be one of the featured speakers at the November 15th Marine Technology Society Technology Innovation Breakfast on Maritime Cybersecurity.  The breakfast will be held at the Ritz Carlton, Pentagon City Hotel in Arlington, Virginia.

The conference is part of the Marine Technology Society's ongoing Technology Innovation Breakfast Series.  It will explore the future of maritime cyber requirements from the government and industry prospectus.  This will be the inaugural event for the newly formed Maritime Technology Society Maritime Cyber Infrastructure & Security Committee.

The Marine Technology Society was incorporated in June 1963 to give members of academia, government and industry a common forum for the exchange of information and ideas.  The speaker’s presentations will be streamed by Maritime TV,

The moderator will be Max Bobys, vice president, Global Strategies at HudsonAnalytix/HA-Cyber.  In addition to Mileski, invited speakers include Major General Michael S. Groen, USMC, director for intelligence, Dr. Mr. Brian Burns, deputy assistant commandant, Info Technology, U.S. Coast Guard, and John Felker, director, National Cyber Security and Communications Integration Center, Department of Homeland Security.

Maritime TV is now the industry’s channel for live and archived webcasts and video presentations involving the commercial and military shipping industry.  Programming on Maritime TV ranges from congressional hearings on important marine industry issues, to live interactive town hall and advocacy group meetings, to training on shipboard safety and operational fundamentals.

Texas A&M University at Galveston Student Goes to Wall Street

Cliff Ghoram has had quite a bit of success since graduating with his master’s degree from the Maritime Administration and Logistics program at TAMUG.  His work on corporate analysis earned him a place in an international competition, which saw him travel the world to present in various conferences. 

His work got Ghoram an internship at Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon, based in Houston.  Upon graduation, Ghoram was hired full-time analyst for the energy firm.  Though his graduate coursework had a maritime focus, it was still intensive business administration, which helped prepare him for a successful life as a leader in the corporate world.

His work at Constellation was exemplary enough for the company to send Ghoram to New York City as the company’s representative to mark the acceptance of the firm into the Fortune 100.  As reward for both his personal success and the success of his company, Ghoram helped ring in the day at the New York Stock Exchange on October 24, 2016.  Surely, this is only the first of many crowning achievements for the 29 year old Ghoram.


TAMMA Cadets Keep The Rudder Steady

The Texas A&M Maritime Academy (TAMMA) prides itself on creating self-reliant licensed officers ready for a life in the US Merchant Marine, the Navy or Coast Guard, or in the private maritime industry.  When Hurricane Harvey came ashore this past August, the senior cadets of TAMMA were provided with the opportunity to put the lessons they had been learning to the test.

The leadership element of the Corps of Cadets, which TAMMA students are automatically a part of, had just arrived back in Texas.  Fresh from their senior cruise with California State University Maritime Academy, the cadets were brought up to speed on the latest news from the Gulf of Mexico.

That senior cruise, a joint endeavor by both Cal Maritime and TAMMA, had been led by the Corps Commander here at Texas A&M University at Galveston (TAMUG), Cole Farine.  Farine, who grew up in the area and is due to graduate in the coming spring, had a lot of responsibility.

It was decided that the majority of the cadets, with the exception of the leadership, would be evacuated with the rest of the students. “Then I was voluntold that I was going to get on the General Rudder,” said Farine.  The General Rudder, named after the famous Army Ranger who later became Texas A&M University President, is the educational ship used by TAMUG for training cadets and engineers. 

The ship, by orders of the Coast Guard, could not be left unattended during the storm.  The fear was that if it broke loose from its moorings it would be blown by the wind into the bridge that connects Pelican Island with Galveston Island, knocking it out of commission.  The responsibility to crew the ship fell to Farine and the Corps leadership, Rear Admiral Rodriguez (superintendent of TAMMA, serving as Chief Mate), and two recent graduates in Rob Dillon and Justin Schwartz.

The crew made preparations for the storm with a couple of runs to the store.  For the majority of the time spent aboard the ship, “it was cold cuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Farine. “No one knew what to expect, but we all had our jobs.”

The concept of shared responsibilities and individual duty had been well-drilled in the cadets.  “On the bridge for watch,” said Farine, “it’d be two cadets and a License Officer, there for eight hours at a time, watching the radar.”  They would watch as the storm got closer and closer, getting periodic updates from families and friends, as the crew did not have access to a television.  “Everyone was a little anxious,” said Farine.

The crew monitored the winds extensively and conducted regular checks on the lines tethering the ship to the dock, ensuring that the tension was manageable.  “Thankfully, the majority of the winds pushed us towards the dock,” said Farine, “but as the storm looped around it did get a little hairy.  We took the proper precautions, and we were ready to act on a number of scenarios.”

Both the ship and the crew weathered the storm smoothly.  “These guys [cadet leadership] are some of the best in the program,” said Farine. “I have every confidence that they could have handled things had it gone worse.”

Being stuck onboard the ship and burdened with some weighty responsibilities, a strong sense of community developed. “Everyone kept morale high,” said Farine. “That was invaluable.”  The experience itself has served as a great learning opportunity, and one that built up the cadets’ confidence.  Farine feels especially prepared as he makes ready to embark on his next adventure upon graduation.


TAMUG Professor Researches Extreme Weather and Effects on Coastal Systems

Dr. Jens Figlus has a passion for understanding the way the ocean and our shores interact, especially in the aftermath of strong storms.   His work regarding beach recovery and beach protection is well known, so it’s only natural that he would be heavily involved in research on the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.

Dr. Figlus’ research project seeks to analyze field data pertaining to storm surge, wave impact, and erosion at several sites along the Texas Gulf Coast.  The project will monitor these sites over the next year to document the coastline’s response to Harvey.  The goal is to quantifiably measure the changes due to hydrodynamic processes acting on barrier island systems both during and after storms.  “Basically,” says Figlus, “to measure and understand how such extreme events change our coastal system.”

Due to the valuable nature of the work Dr. Figlus is doing, he has recently been awarded grant funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF).  This competitively-pursued funding allows Dr. Figlus to have Undergraduate Research Scholar (UGRS) Mick Prouse working closely on the project, gaining precious experience as he moves forward into his chosen field.

Dr. Jens Figlus
Associate Professor,
Ocean Engineering


TAMUG Scientist Talks Harvey, Microbes at Texas City Petroleum Refinery

On Wednesday, April 4th, Texas A&M University at Galveston professor, Dr. Jessica Labonté, spoke at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Texas City at a “Lunch and Learn” event to raise awareness of local environmental issues.

The event was organized by the refinery’s environmental group, the Habitat Enhancement, Awareness and Recycling Team, or HEART for short. The group is made up largely of birders, gardeners, builders and employees who are concerned about land maintenance and restoration.  “HEART is essentially people who are enthusiastic about nature,” said Dr. Labonté.

They had been searching for guest speakers and had spoken with Dr. Patrick Louchouarn, TAMUG’s Executive Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer, who offered a few ideas and names, including Dr. Labonté’s. According to her, “this is the first time the group has had a professor come speak.”

“I was invited to talk about the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Galveston Bay,” she said. Labonté, a microbiologist by trade, knew her audience.  “I knew with a petroleum company that there would be more chemists,” she said, “so I talked a lot about how the chemistry changed and how that impacted the microbial communities.”

“I talked about how microbes are important for the environment in the biological pump, how they sink organic matter to the bottom of the sea floor, and how they’re impacted by environmental change,” she said. “I talked about Deep Water Horizon and how microbes were involved in oil degradation, and they were very interested in that.”

She was also able to speak about collaborative projects she is working on with other TAMUG faculty, including Drs. Antonietta Quigg, Karl Kaiser, David Hala and Hui Liu, that has been done in the aftermath of the storm. “I also spoke about the work being done by professors such as Dr. Lene Petersen and Dr. Anna Armitage, and they were very interested,” she said. Both Armitage’s and Liu’s projects were recently awarded funding from the National Science Foundation.

There were about 50 people in attendance at the event, and Dr. Labonté was pleased to get several questions following her presentation.

“They were interested in learning,” she said. “When you tell them that half of the oxygen they breathe is from photosynthetic bacteria and algae in the ocean, you always get a big reaction.”

The reception to Dr. Labonté’s talk was enthusiastic, which she finds encouraging. HEART puts on the talk twice a year, and she hopes it can grow into a regular, even bigger, event.

 “I think I’ve just opened the door, and they’ve seen that we are doing really cool research right in their backyard.”

Dr. Jessica Labonté
Assistant Professor from Texas A&M University at Galveston's Department of Marine Biology