GODFREY - Lewis and Clark Community College regards itself as a bastion of trade education in the Metro East, and they may soon add another feather in its cap in the form of a maritime institute.
At Tuesday night's board meeting, the board of directors will vote on the approval of the "authorization to pursue creation of the Lewis and Clark Maritime Institute," which, if approved, would be located at the Jerry F. Costello National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Confluence Field Station.
The plan for the Lewis and Clark Maritime Institute is the result of collaboration between the college, the maritime industry and Madison County government. Its development comes in response to increasing demand for a workforce trained and qualified in maritime trades, said Dale Chapman, president of the college. Given its location next to the Mississippi River marine highway, Chapman added, the college is the logical place for such an institute.
"We think about our sense of place, our sagas in this institution, and what could be more appropriate than a Lewis and Clark Maritime Institute?"
The college has been in discussion with industry companies SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting LLC to develop a plan for the institute. Fleeting is a division of the shipping and industry equipment company SEACOR, whose Inland River Services branch owns and operates river transportation equipment.
If the board approves the authorization, college administrators will move forward with the initial stages of opening the institute, including solidifying details on facilities, equipment, staff and administration, and formatting a formal agreement between the parties involved.
Two other community colleges along the Mississippi River offer maritime training. Delgado Community College in New Orleans offers steersman apprentice mate and licensed mariner and wheelman training. West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah offers marine yard certifications, and marine technology, logistics and operations management.
Initial plans indicate the Lewis and Clark Maritime Institute will offer safety training and a towboat operator and pilot program. The college's Corporate and Community Learning Division already offers several safety training programs, but the maritime program will be special in that it should include a river simulator.
River simulators digitally recreate several natural conditions a pilot might encounter, including current, weather and time of day. The result is a tool "for getting the guys a general idea of what they're doing," says Capt. Stephen Polk, director of maritime education and training at Seaman’s Church Institute in Paducah, Ky., which houses a state-of-the-art simulator, largely used for continuing education.
But the simulator can only go so far, Polk said.
"You can't really reproduce all the same effects that you get on the river because it's a constantly changing thing. You can use it to train people with, but it's not exactly like being on the river.”
Learning the ropes of riverboat operation begins on the deck. Trainees work up to mate, then to the engine room or wheelhouse. Some private sector riverboat companies have their own training programs, but the college’s program would provide training in coordination with several companies in the Riverbend region.
"We will be relying on the industry to provide instructors and experienced pilots to help define the simulator technology," Chapman said. "And we are most grateful for their leadership."
Chapman credited Paul Wellhausen, vice president at SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting LLC, with spearheading the endeavor.
"It is unusual to see industry representatives who are so supportive of training and raising the standards in that industry for employees," Chapman said.
Wellhausen directed comment on the institute to Timothy Power, president of SCF Marine Inc., who declined to comment on the project, saying his company would consider issuing a statement after the board’s vote.
Reporter Kelsey Landis can be reached at 618-208-6460, Ext. 1396 or on Twitter @kelseylandis.
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