May 12, 2000

NASSCO and Sweetwater Union High School District Announce "Waterfront Academy"

High School Seniors Offered Unique Career Path in Maritime Technology

Standing in the shadow of a 950-foot ship, Sweetwater students applying to a new Waterfront Academy got a first-hand look at the importance of algebra, calculus and science.

The academy-a partnership of the Sweetwater Union High School District, the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. and the Regional Occupational Program (ROP)-brought interested students to the NASSCO shipyard recently to show off the trades they could be learning during their senior year.

Learning the Trades: NASSCO welder Ramon See talks to students about his job. L-R: Charlotte Black, NASSCO employee adviser, students Rosalva Jimenez, Johanna Guerra Maria Gutierrez, Manuel Fierro (obscured) and Andres Lopez.

Under the academy program, which is scheduled to begin in the fall, 60-75 incoming Sweetwater seniors will take classes in classrooms currently under construction at NASSCO. During their six-hour school day held at the shipyard, students will study academics with their Sweet-water teachers and receive hands-on training from the company's industry experts who have been ROP-certified. Training and mentoring will be offered in trades such as electrical, machinery, pipefitting, sheetmetal, shipfitting, rigging and welding. Students will learn skills in applied mathematics, physical science and blueprint reading, and the use of computers, manufacturing tools, machinery, and rigging equipment.

The shipbuilding company is looking at the academy as a way to build a new workforce from the ground up to replace the scores of welders, machinists and electricians who will be retiring over the next four to five years. And the school district is interested in the partnership as a way to help students create a bridge between their academics and the world of work.

"It's unique in the shipbuilding industry and possibly unique in education in America," said NASSCO President Richard Vortmann.

Upon successful completion of the ship manufacturing and academic courses, students will earn their high school diploma and participate in a paid summer internship. After the internship, students will have the choice of working at NASSCO, other waterfront companies or going on to college. Students moving into NASSCO can also attend college while the shipbuilder picks up the tab.

"NASSCO is looking at students in this program not only as our future core of skilled craftsmen, but as a future source of supervisors, managers and engineers," Vortmann said.

Academy instructor Mario Sevilla remembers beginning at NASSCO 25½ years ago and wishing he had a program like this-especially when it came time to apply math concepts.

"They'll be using lots of fractions," Sevilla said. "This is going to be a great chance for the students. They can use their hands, go to college, or both."

Applying their academic skills immediately to hands-on activities was very exciting for the students touring NASSCO.

"This is going to be a great program," said Maria Gutierrez, a Sweetwater High junior. "This a good opportunity that we should take advantage of. We'll become more experienced by studying and working at the same time."

Building partnerships is an important way to spread education dollars more efficiently and to tap into talents of the business community, said Sweetwater board President Greg Sandoval.

"Through our many partnerships, we're able to hear what employers are looking for and marry those skills with our academics," Sandoval said.

This NASSCO partnership will be a valuable bridge to post-graduation employment and education opportunities, said Sweetwater Superintendent, Dr. Ed Brand.

"The partnership is a great match," Brand said. "Sweetwater students can get their foot in the door for lifelong careers, and NASSCO can tap into a pool of young people to replace the company's retiring workforce."

Rosalva Jimenez, a Sweetwater High junior, can't wait for the program to get started. "I'm excited about the opportunity," Rosalva said. "I'm prepared and ready to learn."

For more information about the program, contact Sweetwater's Career Awareness Center at 619-691-5611.

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