Founded in 1968, Hillsborough Community College (HCC) is now the ninth largest of Florida's 28-member community college system. The MATE Center welcomes this Tampa, Florida school and its thriving aquaculture program as a new MATE educational partner.
The five-year-old program was created when local aquaculture industries realized that there was no formal education program to help produce qualified employees for their industry, which is an important regional employer. Eventually this group approached HCC and the program was born.
Up to twenty-four students can enroll at a time. These individuals range from those just entering the profession to those who already work at fish farms or related industries (such as research facilities or public aquariums). Students have the option of working towards an A.S. degree in aquaculture or receiving a College Credit Certificate in aquaculture technology. With the latter, the students aren’t required to complete internships. Most opt for the degree track.
A Rigorous Schedule
HCC’s aquaculture program is a challenging one. “Our curriculum is very intense,” says Bill Falls, associate professor and the program’s manager. Students must take a wide range of aquaculture-related courses and complete three semester-long internships. Classes include Aquacultural Organisms, Earth Science, Marine Biology, Environmental Science, Aquacultural Nutritional Techniques, Aquacultural Disease Processes, and Aquacultural Management Practices.
Like the MATE Center, HCC recognizes that internships are a vital part of students’ preparation. Intern hosts for the aquaculture program fall into three main categories: public facilities, such as the Florida Aquarium or Busch Gardens; fish farms; and research facilities.
Typically, interns are exposed to all aspects of work at the host business. “At a fish farm, for example, they will do a bit of everything, from spawning fish to packing them up for shipment,” says Falls. Interns at the Florida State Port Manatee Hatchery are required to give a seminar to the entire Florida Marine Research Institute at the conclusion of their internship.
In August 2001 HCC’s aquaculture department nearly doubled in size by taking on a new State Department-funded program for international students. Currently the program is hosting eighteen students from Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Jamaica. These students will complete a two-year aquaculture program at HCC and then return to their own countries to implement what they’ve learned. Most will complete the coursework for the College Credit Certificate (largely because of the language challenges involved with carrying out the internships).
Out in the Working World
Proof that HCC’s aquaculture program is producing well-trained potential employees – thereby fulfilling its original goal – can be seen by tracking its graduates. In the program’s five short years it already boasts many former students with successful careers.
As an example, one graduate is doing research in the University of Florida’s tropical aquaculture laboratory and two are now at the Florida Marine Research Institute. Several others work for Segrest Farms, an international company that propagates coral, live rocks, tropical fish, reptiles, and other products. Three more graduates work at tropical fish farms. Some graduates move to positions across the country, while many stay in the local area.
Ties with the Local Business Community
Placing students in regional businesses is just one aspect of HCC’s connection with the local aquaculture community. The significant interaction between the program and industry helps everyone involved.
The program’s advisory committee, which consists of industry representatives, consulted on the selection of textbooks when the program first began and continues to review curriculum. Committee members have also helped students find employment, and some have hired graduates. Further, they invite HCC classes into their facilities, giving students the hands-on training and real-world experience in the industry that is such an important part of their education.
Individual members also act as guest lecturers. “I’m the only full-time instructor, but I often bring in people from the industry as lecturers,” explains Falls. “Their expertise is invaluable.”
Partnering with MATE
HCC already reaps many benefits from its connection with the MATE Center. “Through the partnership with MATE, our program has enjoyed nationwide exposure,” says Falls. “Further, I’m having many more opportunities to meet people with similar interests.”
Falls attended the MATE Center’s 3rd Annual Summer Institute for Faculty Development, Introduction to Submersible Technology: Teaching this Course at Your Institution (held in 2001). That experience has influenced a recent grant application he prepared. “We submitted a grant proposal to build an artificial reef in the Florida Keys and compare it to natural reefs, and I’ve included an ROV (remotely-operated vehicle) to help conduct our studies,” he explains. “If it hadn’t been for my experience at the MATE Summer Institute, I wouldn’t have thought to include an ROV, and if we get the grant, the ROV will be incorporated into our curriculum so students will also have the opportunity to learn about ROVs.”
HCC is helping the MATE Center, also. The Center has contracted with Falls to conduct a survey of the knowledge and skills required of aquarists at public zoos, aquariums, and other facilities around the nation. Several of Falls’ students are participating in the project. This cooperative venture benefits everyone: it helps the MATE Center by providing vital information for its industry surveys, and it gives the students an in-depth view of the industry they are considering as a career.
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