College Program Aids in Turnaround

February 2010

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Ten years ago, deep sea Able Seaman Ernest Frank could not have dreamed that he’d be six months away from earning his Associate of Applied Science Degree let alone be in position to parlay his knowledge into a U.S. Coast Guard-approved mate’s license.

Thanks to the college degree program at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, however, that’s precisely his reality today. The Circleville, West Va., native, who served five years in the U.S. Army Rangers at Fort Lewis, Washington, is on pace to complete his requirements for a two-year degree in Nautical Technology later this year.

“God willing, after finishing the work for my degree, I will get my mate’s license get a job in the tug industry with the ATBs,” Frank said. “That will provide me with some stability, a steady routine and good pay. Of course I look forward to someday returning to the beach and starting a family.”

But Frank’s future was not always quite as promising. To the contrary, it was rather daunting. “I finished the 10th grade, but then dropped out of high school and did nothing except hang around the farm until I was 17,” he said. Shortly after turning 17, Frank met with Army Recruiter Jim Nethkan, who took him under wing and made all the arrangements for him to meet the Army’s induction requirements—including testing for and obtaining a West Virginia state GED in 1978.

Frank, however, who described himself at that juncture as “a young man who was too cool for school,” continued to make bad choices in his life, even while in the military. “I still struggled with a narrow temper and a broad ego,” he admitted. Consequently, he ended a promising military career in 1984 under unplanned and less-than-ideal circumstances.

A short time later, he commenced his civilian life in prison. Upon his release from incarceration, Frank left the state of Washington for Missouri. Once in Missouri, he worked part-time for a roofing contractor. He also took a full-time course load at Calvary Bible College in preparation for service as a foreign missionary to tribal peoples.

Despite three semesters of successful academic work at Calvary, that pursuit ultimately didn’t work out. Frank confessed, “I began to understand late in life that hard work and determination alone were not enough. I saw that in addition to a strong body, it was critical for a man to use his self discipline to carve out a solid character and to cultivate a consistent positive attitude. I constantly ask God to help me with this.”

Frank then returned to his home state where from 1987 to 2000 he worked in residential construction and took classes at both Fairmont State College and West Virginia University. “Major stretches of this period
were spent living out of my truck,” Frank noted. “Non-union pay rates in a rural part of one of the poorest states in the union simply were not enough to cover both living and school expenses. Something had to be sacrificed.”

Fortunately for him, his fate was about to change. In 2000, Frank left residential construction and joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) and Local 604, as a fully qualified Journeyman. He then began doing commercial and industrial construction work. “I was involved mostly in heavy and highway contracts such as bridges and (ironically) prisons.”

The UBC disaffiliated from the AFL-CIO in 2001, citing concerns about organizing. During this disaffiliation process, the UBC reorganized itself into regions. Because of this shake-up, Frank said, many of the men who were working in West Va. fell on hard times.

Finding steady work became a real challenge. “At that time I was about 42 and a buddy of mine who had been a Seafarer with the SIU for 38 years had retired,” Frank recalled.

“He told me that I was still young enough to make a career change and that I might like shipping.

“Knowing him as I did and what he had done over the years,” Frank continued, “I decided to join the SIU.”

Frank entered the unlicensed apprentice program at Piney Point in 2005 and graduated as a proud member of Class 670. “That was my first year here,” he said. “Looking back over my life since then, I can tell you that choosing the maritime industry as my profession was one of the best decisions that I have ever made.” Frank has since gone to sea aboard several union-contracted vessels, working in the Deep Sea Division. He has returned to Piney Point on more than a few occasions to upgrade his skills.

“The facility here [the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center] is a fantastic opportunity for everyone in the union,” he continued. “It’s unbelievable when you consider all that this union has done and the extent to which it has gone to ensure the success of its members.”

Frank lauded the role which the union’s officials over the years have played in the continued success and growth of the school.

“The leadership has done everything possible to make it easy and convenient for members to further their careers, improve their skill sets and stay current with the needs of the industry,” he said. “In my estimation, this school has been one of Mike’s [SIU President Michael Sacco] real successes.

“He has had the vision to maintain a place like this where members can come to, with their families, and get the education and experience they need in order to remain competitive in today’s maritime marketplace,” Frank said. “And of course, from the signatories’ [SIU-contracted companies] point of view, that’s exactly what they want to see…. They want to see a membership that they can tap into on demand … a membership competent and current in its skills.”

Despite the union’s best efforts to make advancing one’s career less challenging, Frank feels that far too few of his brothers and sisters take advantage of it. “Members often do not take the time to improve themselves,” he said. “They see the opportunities for advancement when they are aboard the ships but often fail to follow through while on the beach by doing the things they really need to do to enhance their skill sets here at the school.

“I’ve tried to get as many people interested in the school as possible because the union is expending a lot of energy to keep this program going…. I sincerely want to see more members take advantage of it,” Frank concluded.

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Paul Hall Center Offers Courses Leading to Degrees, Certificates

In addition to its nationally acclaimed unlicensed apprentice training program for seafarers and boatmen, the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education offers curriculums leading to two-year college degrees and certificates.

Associate of Applied Science programs are available for deck as well as engine department students. Both degrees offer concentrations in the deep sea or inland
divisions of the maritime industry.

Successful students will need to complete general education courses as well as vocational courses specific to the department in which they ship. The Nautical Certificate program is available to those who complete the school’s unlicensed apprentice program and start both their upgrading and college programs. Certificates are offered in maritime technology with concentrations in nautical science or maritime engineering.

Collectively, the foregoing programs are designed to provide the opportunity for seafarers to earn college degrees or certificates in their occupational areas. An added benefit is that these programs provide students with solid academic foundations in general education subjects.

To be accepted for either of the college degree or certificate programs, candidates must meet the following criteria:

■ Be a member of the SIU in good standing;
■ Receive a passing score on the American College Testing program standardized test;
■ Possess the prerequisite maritime background for courses (have upgraded at least once in their department);
■ Provide an essay describing personal education goals; and
■ Have earned a high school diploma or GED.

Seafarers who are interested in either of these programs should contact the Paul Hall Center Academic Department at (301) 994-0010, ext 5411.