Texas Southern Launches Maritime Degree Program — A First for an HBCU - Higher Education
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Texas Southern Launches Maritime Degree Program — A First for an HBCU

by Jamal Eric Watson

Schineatha Rodriguez had worked in the maritime industry for more than six years. She was responsible for loading the vessels that exported items around the world to distant places in Latin America and Europe.

“It was a dynamic experience,” she says.  “I learned that there were so many roles and responsibilities in making a ship move to other parts of the world.”

But then the 53-year-old Houston resident was laid off from her job and decided she should return to college and earn the college degree that she started many years ago. 

“I knew that I wanted to attend an HBCU because I believed it would support me better than any other environment,” says Rodriguez, who began researching possible majors that sparked her interest.

And then she came across an unusual announcement last spring.

Texas Southern University planned to launch a new Bachelor of Science degree in Maritime Transportation Management and Security — the first undergraduate degree program of its kind at a HBCU.

“I was so excited,” says Rodriguez, who received a full scholarship in the amount of $18,000 per year to participate in the program.  “I loved the industry and was pleased to see this new program offered.”

TSU established the program in collaboration with $2 million in start-up funds from the Port of Houston Authority — one of the nation’s largest ports — to respond to the dearth of minorities in managerial positions and an aging maritime industry work force that will need to be replaced over the next decade. 

Nationwide, port officials say the maritime work force is increasingly aging (with an average age of about 45) and there is a need to develop a pipeline for younger workers. Minorities in managerial positions nationwide account for less than 15 percent of the overall work force, officials say.

The initial grant of $2 million will fund the program for the first five years, says Ursurla A. Williams, the program coordinator at TSU. University officials are also soliciting additional funds through the state Legislature and private foundations.

Port of Houston Authority officials say there will likely be a demand in the future for careers in freight logistics, shipping management and maritime transportation planning.

“Recently, there has been a global call for an infusion of a prepared work force into the maritime industry,” says James T. Edmonds, the chairman of the Port of Houston. “This partnership integrates the resources of two dynamic Houston institutions committed to advancing education, commerce and improving quality of life. The success of this program will reap benefits that will be felt locally, nationally and around the world.”

The response to the new major has been well-received on campus. The inaugural class has 33 students — 24 of whom receive either full or partial scholarships. Last spring, TSU officials targeted area high schools and community colleges to generate interest in the program.

“There has been great interest among our students,” says Williams, who believes that other HBCUs headquartered in cities with major ports might consider replicating the program on their campuses. “The program has been well-received.”

TSU maritime majors must complete 121 credits and take a variety of courses, including Introduction to Maritime, Maritime History and Maritime Law. Many of the courses are taught by vessel captains and other industry professionals.

Rodriguez is enrolled in four classes and will earn her degree in two years.

“I know that I want to return to the maritime industry but this time I will have a college degree in hand and so many more doors will be open for me,” she says. “Before I was laid off, I found out that if you are working and you don’t have the college degree, you don’t get the opportunity for promotion. Some of the doors are closed.”

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