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Northwest Michigan is Well Trained

Specialized programs supply the region’s industries with skilled talent.

By Dorian Martin on March 5, 2020

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Northwest Michigan understands the power of connectivity between business, industry, education and government. 

A backbone of talent efforts in the region are its higher education institutions, such as Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) and North Central Michigan College, both of which work closely with local industry and offer specialized programs. 

NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute provides hands-on experience for students and helps feed the hospitality industry with skilled workers. 

The Great Lakes Maritime Academy at NMC offers students training in a number of disciplines related to the commercial shipping industry. And the college has created a number of academic programs focused on water and marine environments. 

“The NMC has had a water presence for over 50 years in terms of degree offerings,†says Hans VanSumeren, the director of NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute (GLWSI). “It began with the Great Lakes Maritime Academy.”

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The Shipping News

The Great Lakes Maritime Academy, one of just six state maritime academies located across the nation, is unique because it’s located on freshwater. The academy’s location allows cadets to earn Great Lakes pilotage and an ocean license. 

“Having these two options expands our graduates’ job opportunities since our industry is cyclical in nature,†says Rear Admiral Jerry Achenbach, the academy’s superintendent.

The program has a 100% placement rate after graduation, with starting salaries beginning at $60,000. 

“The training that they’re getting (through GLWSI) is so connected to the industry – it’s exactly what industry

is looking for.”

Hans VanSumeren
Director of the GLWSI

The academy also is unique because it is part of a community college but grants a bachelor’s degree. Approximately two thirds of each class enrolls in the deck officer program, while the remainder are in the engineer officer program. Graduates leave the academy as highly trained and professional U.S. Coast Guard-licensed merchant marine officers.

The academy’s total enrollment is 200. Some 70% of the academy’s cadets come from Michigan, while approximately 20% are from other parts of the Great Lakes and the remainder hail from across the U.S. The academy increasingly is attracting nontraditional students. The average cadet’s age is 23, many students are married and some have earned previous college degrees, including Ph.D.s and law degrees.

The academy also offers unique opportunities for other NMC programs. For instance, students in NMC’s Great Lakes Culinary Institute can volunteer for internships on the academy’s training ship. These internships allow aspiring culinary students to earn a Coast Guard credential so they are able to serve in the maritime industry. 

Northwest Michigan

Water Ways

As part of its strategic efforts, NMC expanded its focus on water by creating the GLWSI. After initially focusing on community based training and educating teachers around water, the institute created its first degree program in freshwater studies. 

Soon thereafter, GLWSI received a donation of technology and training that allowed faculty and students to observe and image things in and under water, including the sea floor and infrastructure. 

“On the very first day we went out with this equipment, we came across the shipwreck that no one could find in very deep water,†VanSumeren says. “People had been searching for this shipwreck for decades.”

Discover Northwest Michigan

The institute also put together coursework and curriculum focused on marine technology, which has now blossomed into a bachelor’s degree. This interdisciplinary degree program includes classes in science, engineering, math, robotics and writing. This degree program has 100% employment, and many students are offered high-paying jobs prior to graduation with salaries ranging from $60,000 to $80,000.

“The training that they’re getting is so connected to the industry – it’s exactly what industry is looking for,†VanSumeren says.

GLWSI continues to add to its equipment, either through purchases or donations from the private sector.

“We have an unbelievable campus on the water with assets that most major universities in the U.S. do not have, or if they have them, they don’t use them for training the workforce,†VanSumeren says.

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