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Project Long Beach: Port Of Long Beach Programs Help Educate The 21st Century Workforce

By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer

January 29, 2013 - In a globally competitive marketplace, educating and training the workforce of the future is not just the responsibility of schools, colleges and universities – business and industry must also do its part. The Port of Long Beach recognized this truth 20 years ago when it launched a scholarship program for students interested in pursuing careers in international trade and related fields. And today it continues to serve aspiring students through internships, field trips, volunteer opportunities and even a robust classroom curriculum designed to provide real-world problem-solving education. “The port program has really, really grown, especially in the last few years,” said public information officer Art Wong.

Under the leadership of Gina Herrera, the port’s educational programs are now as influential as ever, and the portfolio of learning opportunities is expanding year in and year out. “I think there are things we have consistently done that have been a great way to reach students,” she said. “We’re really trying to showcase all the different subject matters that are applied here. The fact that it’s dynamic and so broad makes it such a great vehicle to communicate a lot of these objectives.” And doing so gives students a window into the many diverse jobs available at the port. Whether it’s engineering trades, administration or communications fields, logistic and supply chain industries, finance professions or work in environmental science – just to name a few – there are a wealth of careers trickling out of the nation’s second-busiest port.

One of the best ways to introduce students to the port is through harbor tours, which have become popular field trips for local area students. “We think when students can see the enormity and scale of the port, it’s really the best way to convey that experience directly,” Herrera said. A simple cruise through the harbor waters is sometimes all it takes to pique the interest of students and encourage them to pursue a portion of the $60,000 in scholarships the port awards each year to between 25 and 30 students, on average. Scholarships are available for graduating high school students; international business students and graduate students in global logistics programs at California State University, Long Beach; and students in international business, trade and industrial technologies programs at Long Beach City College (see article at end of this story for more information).

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In recent years, the port has developed a free online and downloadable classroom curriculum program, replete with lesson plans for elementary and high school science, as well as middle school mathematics and high school economics. With input from the Long Beach Unified School District and committed teachers, the curriculum addresses content that is applicable to everyday port activities, businesses and industries. It is seen as a way to augment and supplement traditional course work. These assignments provide tangible insight and problem-solving challenges to students. And they replace the theoretical with the real world by reinforcing actual, everyday lessons. “We don’t want to be so distant and so far away that students can’t imagine what the port is,” Wong said.

Additionally, the curriculum includes multimedia lessons and tools to increase participation and interaction with the subject material, activity and color books available to elementary school students, and a teacher’s guide that highlights key port activities and industries.

The feedback from teachers and students has been positive. “I’ve woven a lot of the port’s lesson plan ideas into what I do as part of our international trade unit,” said Wendy Salaya, who teaches economics and U.S. government at Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach. “It’s more of a bridge between academics and the real world. So the Port of Long Beach has become our real-life case study for the international trade unit.”

Salaya first encountered the port’s educational programs a few years ago when she was employed at Lakewood High School and plans to continue incorporating the lessons in her teaching at Wilson. She said the port’s program helps students learn about the pros and cons of globalization and the benefits of international trade. Moreover, visits to the port help students better understand the many career options available to them in the trade industry. “I think they are struck by the enormity of the Port of Long Beach and the impact international trade has on the regional economy,” Salaya said.

The port is currently updating its education outreach plan and five-year goals with the intent of making the program a “richer, deeper experience for students,” Herrera said. With this in mind, the port will continue celebrating women in the trade industry with an annual luncheon designed to foster interest in young girls. “It’s also a mentorship opportunity,” Herrera said of the event. Moreover, the port hopes to expand its internships programs for both high school and college students.

Now that a solid foundation has been laid, the port expects to grow the program substantially in the coming years, if only because it simply desires to meet the newfound educational needs of today’s students. And the partnership between the port and local schools is more critical than ever given the fiscal and budgetary challenges facing public education institutions. “We have the drive to want to do these things,” Wong said. “We want to excite students about what we do here.”

Scholarships Available For Graduating Long Beach High School Seniors

The Port of Long Beach awards annual scholarships for Long Beach high school seniors who plan to pursue careers in international trade, goods movement or other port-related industries. Scholarship awards range from $1,000 to $8,000. The application deadline for the graduating class of 2013, is Friday, March 1. Visit http://www.polb.com/community/education and click the “scholarships” tab for more information and a downloadable application form.