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Preparing students for careers and life on the open ocean

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In addition to the regular offshore training cruises, CFCC marine technology students have helped in other ocean-based research projects. For the past 10 years, students have assisted underwater archaeologists recover over a dozen artifacts from the shipwreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge, believed to be the flagship of Blackbeard.

Photo: Cape Fear Community College

​After five years in the U.S. Navy, Ari Saint-Lot relocated to North Carolina and was looking for a new career, but wanted more than just a "regular" job.

Following two years at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC), he got it.

A friend recommended that Ari look into the unique marine technology training offered at CFCC and in a few months he and his wife moved to Wilmington, N.C., so he could enroll at the college.

It turned out to be a great decision. After two years at CFCC, Saint-Lot earned his degree and soon landed a job with CGG Veritas, an international company that provides a wide range of offshore services for the oil and gas industry. He spends five weeks at sea and then returns back home to North Carolina for five weeks off.

Most recently, Saint-Lot worked aboard the 330-foot long research ship CGG Alize, where he deployed, recovered and repaired equipment used in offshore seismic research.

“The marine tech program prepared me for my current job,” Saint-Lot said.

He explained that the hands-on experience he gained at CFCC helped him land a job with one of the world’s leading offshore seismic research companies.

Myriad courses, opportunities

Designed to train students to work in a wide variety of marine-related fields, the marine technology program at CFCC is one of the most unique educational programs offered at any college in the country.

Since 1964, CFCC's marine technology graduates have been finding work in offshore seismic research, marine navigation, data acquisition, dredging, fisheries research and environmental monitoring.

CFCC's marine technology department chairman Jason Rogers said the program is successful in placing graduates in jobs because of the comprehensive curriculum and hands-on training.

Throughout the five-semester program, students take courses in marine biology, navigation, oceanography, marine instrumentation and electronics, hydrographic surveying and water analysis. Students work in all types of marine and coastal environments. They work in the Cape Fear River, in the marshes and in the intracoastal waterway.

However, the crown jewel of the program's training is the offshore experience students get on the Atlantic Ocean. Over the course of two years, every student in the program spends a total of 32 days on board the college's ocean-going research vessel, the R/V Dan Moore.

"When students apply what they've learned in the classroom out on the open water miles away from the sight of land, it all comes together," Rogers said.

Putting skills to work

During a series of five offshore training voyages that range from three to 10 days, students have to put all their skills to the test.  During each voyage on the 85-foot vessel, students work in shifts—doing everything from navigation, deploying scientific equipment, biological sampling and instrument retrieval—often in changing weather conditions. Most importantly, students learn to live and work safely out at sea in close quarters.

"The at-sea experience can't be taught in a classroom or simulated on a lake or river. Students have to learn how to physically and mentally adapt to the ocean environment and be able to do their job safely. Employers hire our graduates because they'll be able to go right to work," Rogers said.

According to Paul Turpin, CGG Veritas operations project manager, CFCC's specialized offshore training is what makes graduates so employable. His company is one of dozens of companies that regularly recruit CFCC graduates.

"We've found that Cape Fear graduates have the necessary skills so they can come straight out of the college and start to work," Turpin said.

He explained that graduates not only know how to use industry-standard technology, but are experienced in working safely in an unpredictable offshore environment.

"The program is uniquely structured to fit our industry," Turpin said.

He added that the CFCC graduates who have been hired are performing very well and are moving up to higher positions within the company.

According to the most recent graduate employment survey, 94 percent of CFCC's marine technology graduates were employed within one year of graduation. The average salary of those working was $48,000 per year.

Currently, there are 140 students enrolled in CFCC's marine technology program.

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