National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), in partnership with Sweetwater Union High School District, today conferred special diplomas on the first 21 graduates of the Waterfront Academy, a one-year program that trains Sweetwater seniors in ship-manufacturing technologies. The unique graduation ceremony was held on the deck of the USNS Pomeroy, the seventh of eight new strategic sealift ships being build for the Navy by NASSCO. The ceremony included remarks by NASSCO's president, Richard Vortmann; Dr. Edward Brand, Sweetwater superintendent; and Jaimie Dechico, vice president of the graduating class.
This year's innovative Waterfront Academy program brought 17 male and four female seniors to NASSCO's bayfront shipbuilding facility for a year of academic classes and career preparation. The Academy features a six-hour school day in classes held at NASSCO, where students receive hands-on training from the company's industry experts and study academic subjects with their Sweetwater teachers.
Training and mentoring is offered in trades such as electrical, machinery, pipefitting, sheetmetal, shipfitting, rigging and welding. Students also study applied mathematics, physical science and blueprint reading, and the use of computers, manufacturing tools, machinery and rigging equipment.
The students received their high school diplomas earlier this week at their respective home schools. Today, they were awarded Waterfront Academy diplomas. In July, the graduates will begin a 240-hour paid internship in the shipyard, which will qualify them for available entry-level employment. Several of the students are expected to accept job offers from the company, while others will continue their education at a community college or university. The Waterfront Academy program has provided each graduating student with 12 units of college credit.
Included in the ceremony was the presentation of awards and scholarships. One student, class vice president Jaimie Dechico, received scholarship offers from both the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University and has accepted the offer from San Diego State. A second student, Paul Ruiz, received the Governor's scholarships, awarding him $1,000 to the university of his choice.
At the end of the ceremony, students' parents helped them remove colored tape from the hard hats they had worm during the school year, signifying their transition from student to shipyard worker.
NASSCO's Vortmann said, "We are extremely pleased to have worked with these fine young people during the first year of the Waterfront Academy. It took motivation and a degree of courage to leave their high schools and spend their senior years studying and working in a shipyard environment. I think the experience has been very rewarding for the students and will also prove to be an excellent investment for NASSCO. These students have led the way, and we look forward to admitting an even larger class to the Academy in the fall.
"We are looking to the students who complete this program as being a source of skilled craftsmen today and a source of supervisor, managers and engineers for tomorrow," Vortmann added.
Sweetwater superintendent Brand commented, "The Waterfront Academy proves that schools and businesses can work together to provide `real world' training that prepares students for jobs and college. We are delighted that this innovative partnership is making such a difference for the students."