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BEYOND THE DRAMA: Pirate Training Aside, Mass. Maritime Prepares Students for the Highs and Lows of Business
By Darren Garnick

Other than nursery school, coloring books and Johnny Depp movies, there are very few places where we can learn about pirates. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy, known as “Mass. Maritime” for short, is one of them.

Located on Cape Cod, the Academy now offers a “How to Fight Pirates” course for all undergraduates. The surreal topic is quite real as anyone who has traveled off the east coast of Africa knows all too well.

In April 2009, Mass. Maritime graduate Richard Phillips was at the helm of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship delivering tons of humanitarian aid to Kenya when it was hijacked by Somali pirates. In a bold maneuver, the captain offered to trade his life to ensure the safety of his crew. He voluntarily became the pirates’ sole hostage on a lifeboat, a six-day crisis that ended with a dramatic rescue by the U.S. Navy SEALs.

The Maersk Alabama’s second in command, fellow Mass. Maritime alumnus Shane Murphy, led the ship to safe waters. The story is told in Phillips’ autobiography, “A Captain’s Duty,” which is now being made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Film producers were recently at the school’s campus to recruit real merchant marines to play the crew on screen.

Off camera, another Mass. Maritime-trained captain, Paul Rochford, thwarted a pirate attack on the same ship in the same waters in November 2009.

News headlines aside, most of what goes on at the four-year academic institution is a lot less dramatic. The Academy offers degrees in Engineering, International Maritime Business, Marine Safety & Environmental Protection and Marine Transportation. It has strong relationships with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, although less than 10 percent of the student body opts to join the military.

“Commercial shipping jobs pay ten times as much,” explains Robert MacGregor, Mass. Maritime’s IT Director. “We’re not a full military-style school, but we’re regimental. Students wear uniforms and do push-ups.  At the end, employers love the dedication, work ethic and loyalty of our graduates.”

“People leave here with more of a sense of responsibility than they would with a traditional liberal arts school,” he adds.

Part of the lure of the school is the hands-on training, particularly with the Kennedy, a 540-foot training steamship where cadets control voyages at sea under the close supervision of faculty. In a typical four years, students will take two cruises to the Caribbean and one through the Panama Canal.  Budget permitting, they also will cross the Atlantic Ocean – but in the past few years fuel costs (averaging $750,000 per trip) have kept the Kennedy closer to home.

One place that Mass. Maritime has been able to streamline expenses has been the Engineering Department,which is currently switching from AutoCAD to DraftSight, a professional-grade 2D CAD product from DassaultSystèmes.

Facilities Engineering, Energy Systems Engineering and Marine Engineering majors are now accessing DraftSight on 50 virtual desktop devices in the library, student lounges and dorms. Plans are to exclusively use it in the course material for the 2012-2013 academic year.

MacGregor opted to purchase DraftSight’s Educator Premium Pack, which bundles 45 classroom and 200 campus licenses and includes a comprehensive curriculum. From an IT perspective, the transition was highly motivated by the hassle of managing and updating software licenses.

“Using AutoCAD LT (AutoCAD Lite) required us to individually license every machine. With virtual desktops, it was becoming a big nightmare. DraftSight is much easier to manage. You load it, point it to the license server and you’re done,” he says.

“We’ve already saved tens of thousands of dollars in management fees,” adds MacGregor.

Money aside, DraftSight will now be helping tomorrow’s marine engineers prepare themselves for the unexpected.

“I’m extremely proud of our graduates,” says MacGregor. “It’s a high-pressure career where you are out at sea and away from your family for three or more months at a time. Their dedication is pretty impressive!”