La Porte Independent School District

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La Porte High School Maritime Academy students gain real-world experience

At the helm is Capt. David Jancauskas, who brings more than 30 years of experience in the maritime industry
to his role as instructor. Now completing his second year at LPHS, Jancauskas says his job is to introduce those who are truly interested in the maritime industry to the many possibilities available to them, with or without a college degree.

The program is a fitting one for a district nestled between the Barbour’s Cut and Bayport terminals
and just down the road from San Jacinto College’s new Maritime Technology and Training Center.
“Within five years of graduating high school, without leaving the Port of Houston, a student with a
background and foothold on this (maritime) profession, and the right motivation, could make
$100,000,” Jancauskas said.

A graduate of the LPHS program has the opportunity to obtain a TWIC (Transportation Worker
Identification Credential card), which is required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act for
workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels, as well as
the Merchant Mariner’s Credential from the U.S. Coast Guard. These are the entry level requirements
to work in the marine industry, he said.

In the first year of the program, students learn nautical terms, basic firefighting skills and basic first aid and ship terminology and procedures. They also learn about basic survival skills and distress communications. Later on, they learn about engineering and navigation and put their skills to work in reading, understanding and following directions. For example, this year, the students constructed a boat, using teamwork and engineering and craft skills to complete the difficult project.

High school graduates who want to enter the maritime industry can choose to go right to work, attend local college maritime programs or enter the U.S. Coast Guard, depending on what their eventual career goals might be. Texas A & M Maritime in Galveston offers another nearby opportunity, providing a four-year degree and excellent employment opportunities in the marine industry.

Jancauskas explains that a high school graduate who takes the necessary courses in the San Jacinto College program can get a great start in the industry and become eligible to work as a deckhand, making up to $40,000. Within a year and with additional classes, an eager learner can qualify as a tankerman, who works with the offloading of goods, making up to $70,000. If he proves his worth and continues to learn, he could advance to working as a mate—the second in charge—for a salary of approximately $100,000. And those who develop the skills, maturity and leadership abilities to become a captain could make as much as $150,000 per year.

The license system for holding senior positions on vessels is tiered, ranging from the first level that allows a mariner to take six people out on a charter boat for fishing up to an unlimited master’s license, which allows the mariner to work as an officer on one of the ships that keep Houston the busy port that it is. A Houston Ship Channel pilot must be qualified as a ship captain, with an unlimited license and 10 years of experience. A pilot, who guides the ships through the channel, can make a salary of several hundred thousand each year.

Regardless of the career path a student chooses, leadership skills are key to upward mobility in the field. “This industry needs leaders,” Jancauskas added, noting the development of leadership skills is incorporated into his lessons at the Maritime Academy.
 
Jancauskas began his degree work at the University of Massachusetts, majoring in history and political science, and then entered the Coast Guard, where he became qualified as a deck officer worked working on ships and patrol boats around the U.S. He loved the work as well as the history of the maritime industry and knew he had found his niche. 

He worked on tugboats and earned his master’s license, which allowed him to operate ships up to 300
feet in length, including large passenger ferries and coastal tankers. Later, his sense of  adventure led him to respond to an ad for a vessel operations manager in Alaska, where he was responsible for the day to day operations of 11 ocean-going ships and 1,200 marine personnel.

His role included vessel operations, safety and security in a post-9/11 world, as well as serving as interagency liaison and Coast Guard regulatory branch liaison, answering to both the operations and general managers of the company.
 
“It was a great opportunity to engage in public service and a pleasure to serve the transportation needs of the people of Alaska,” he said. “My job was problem solving,” he added. “What enabled me to do that was 30 years of experience working in this field . . . it was basically high pressure, multi-tasking—sometimes 24/7—and we all thrived on it. Personally I liked the opportunity to work with career professionals, having to
think quickly, brainstorm, and make the right decisions. And it took the combined confidence borne
of many years of experience to make those decisions.”

Jancauskas is grateful for Port Houston, San Jacinto College, Buffalo Marine, Kirby Marine, Higman Marine, Houston Pilots and a host of other maritime businesses throughout the Houston area that show their support for the students and the program in a variety of ways. For example, Port Houston sponsored the April 18 LPHS Maritime Academy Graduation and Recruitment dinner, while representatives from maritime businesses and related agencies provided parents and junior high and high school students with information about educational opportunities and future careers.

On April 28, a total of 88 students and teachers from La Porte Junior High School, Viola DeWalt High School and La Porte High School attended the Maritime Expo at the San Jacinto College Maritime Technology and Training Center, where they learned about maritime careers and related subjects from representatives from a wide variety of organizations.

La Porte High School is one of only a handful of high school maritime programs in the Houston area, and Jancauskas believes the school’s close proximity to the water is a tool for piquing the interest of his students who are looking for adventure as well as a lucrative career. 

“This Port is the gateway to the world,” he said. “Every ship is going somewhere you may have never been before. Who doesn’t get excited about that?”