Cal Maritime’s brand-new major—oceanography—was launched right before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Halyards 3 Turner

“It wasn’t great timing,” admits Professor of Oceanography and Department Chair Alex Parker, “especially since we had to conduct our first year of a very hands-on discipline virtually,” he says. “It was a real challenge to convey the excitement of marine science during our year of online learning.”

Parker knew he needed to start the 2021-22 academic year off right, and fittingly, aboard a ship. So, he applied for some instructional funds and requested a special add on program to an already busy orientation schedule. All the oceanography majors, including freshmen, transfers, and those who spent the last academic year studying online—sailed for a day last weekend aboard the 130-foot-tall ship Matthew Turner out of Sausalito, along with the oceanography faculty. The trip was hosted by Call of the Sea.

“The aim of the trip was for all of us to connect, in person, and in the environment in which we will be working and learning together,” says Parker. “It’s especially important for cadets make connections with their peers and faculty in the oceanography major, connections to the maritime culture of our campus, connection to the ocean and the unique natural history of the San Francisco Estuary. Success in the rigorous oceanography program curriculum will require that cadets have a strong support structure around them and feel connected to their campus community.” Twenty-nine cadets were aboard, along with four faculty members.

Plankton netThere was plenty of time for curricular work too. While on the Matthew Turner, cadets had a chance to take the helm, learned about navigation and sailing, teamwork setting and striking sails, as well as collected samples for marine plastic (using a “manta trawl”), collecting plankton samples from Central San Francisco Bay using plankton nets.  The samples were immediately preserved and will be used in the Marine Biology laboratory this semester, allowing students to compare plankton from the most marine Central Bay with brackish water habitats close to campus in San Pablo Bay.

Parker notes that despite their enthusiasm for the discipline of oceanography, many cadets come to Cal Maritime with little to no experience on a boat. Many have limited experience visiting the ocean too. He says that being on the water to from the start—together—should help. “An important predictor of persistence and success among students in STEM degrees is feeling part of a community of learners.  Cadets need to build trust with peers as they are going to need to lean on each other throughout their years here.  This day was all about establishing those friendships.”

Olivia Munoz ’22, who comes from North Hollywood, concurs. “This was a great introduction to the program and I hope we can continue to have amazing experiences like this. I was finally feeling what it means to be a Cal Maritime cadet.”

Established in 1929, California State University Maritime Academy is the only degree-granting maritime academy on the West Coast. Located in Vallejo, California, the campus offers undergraduate degrees that prepare students for careers in engineering, transportation, international relations, business, and global logistics. Cal Maritime also offers a master’s degree in Transportation and Engineering Management, as well as a number of extended learning programs and courses.