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Orange Coast College’s Professional Mariner Training Center open for business

Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, left, takes the steering wheel of the new full bridge simulator.
Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis, left, takes the steering wheel of the new full bridge simulator which simulates arriving at the Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island during the Orange Coast College Professional Mariner Training Center dedication ceremony on Friday. The simulator can replicate situations from calm sunny days to major storms.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A skyway bridge that extends over West Coast Highway is now all that separates Orange Coast College boating and maritime students from the classroom to the ocean.

The school held a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony for its $22-million Professional Mariner Training Center on Friday morning.

The two-story building, located on the north side of the highway in Newport Beach, includes classroom and laboratory space, a radar training room, conference room and student lounge.

It also is home to a Full Mission Bridge Simulator, which features 10 vertically oriented screens and is valued at about $500,000.

It connects via the skyway to the college’s harborside sailing and rowing hub, as part of the OCC Waterfront Campus. The Intercollegiate Rowing and Sailing Base was rebranded as the Waterfront Campus in April.

“This turns the corner from community sailors and sailing safety programs to more of a commercial training,” said Jim Moreno, president of the Coast Community College District Board of Trustees.

“We have a large career training education mission for the district at all of our campuses. But in particular, this now brings a real specialized program to Orange Coast College for the training of mariners. The industry out there, you look around Newport, they’ve got these huge yachts. Many people are looking for crews, and they want them certified. This facility will do that.”

The Professional Mariner Training Center opened to students by the time class was back in session on Aug. 30, said Sarah Hirsch, the director of the Waterfront Campus.

As well as Moreno, Hirsch and OCC President Dr. Angelica Suarez, Friday’s dedication ceremony featured local politicians such as Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery, state Sen. Dave Min, state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris and Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.

A radar training room equipped with the latest in maritime technology at the  Professional Mariner Training Center.
A radar training room equipped with the latest in maritime technology on display at the Orange Coast College Professional Mariner Training Center center on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The 12,000-foot training center, which broke ground in September 2019, was funded by Measure M.

Suarez said it is one of five projects that Orange Coast College has been able to complete during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It opens the realm of possibilities for students who may not have otherwise thought about a career as a mariner,” Suarez said.

“Just the fact that our students will be able to learn through a multitude of scenarios — navigation, strategy — I think that is phenomenal. All they have to do, once they have the skills here through that training, is take a short walk across this bridge that connects our two sites and actually put those skills [in use] out in the water, using the 40-plus vessels that we have available. It’s just a beautiful connection.”

Dignitaries gather for group picture at the Orange Coast College Professional Mariner Training Center dedication.
Director of waterfront campus Sarah Hirsch, board of trustees Community College District President Jim Moreno, trustee Mary Hornbuckle, trustee Dave Grant, Orange Coast College President Dr. Angela Suarez, Chancellor Dr. John Weispfenning and Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery gather at the Orange Coast College Professional Mariner Training Center dedication ceremony on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Hirsch said the building really creates a home for the academic portion of the school’s mariner program, which shares resources with the community boating program on the harbor.

She has enjoyed the initial reactions to the Full Mission Bridge simulator, she said with a smile.

“Just seeing students’ faces when they see it, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is here? We get to do this?’” Hirsch said.

“You know, we’ve heard the feedback from other programs like aviation where students are getting that simulator time. It really gives them a more real-life lens into what they might be doing.”

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