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PROGRAM GIVES STUDENTS EXPERIENCE IN MARINE INDUSTRY

Griffin Sanders has grown up on the waters surrounding Hilton Head Island. He’s splashed in the surf at Coligny Beach, boated in the May River and explored the Intracoastal Waterway.

“I’ve been boating since I was 2,” the Hilton Head Island High School 10th grader said. “I’ve lived on Hilton Head my whole life. The water has been such a huge part of it.”

A new Hilton Head Institute initiative is hoping to ensure that life on the water is part of his future, too.

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Griffin is one of five Hilton Head High School dstudents participating in a new program to introduce students to the marine industry by training them for technical jobs involving boats. Sposored by the nonprofit Hilton Head Institute, the new Students Underway group meets twice a week at Broad Creek Marina. There an instructor is teaching the teenagers to repair a 22-foor Grady White fishing boat donated by Live Oac Outdoor Company.

“I’ve definitely learned about hard work,” Griffin said. “There’s been days where I’ve come home and I’ve had paint on my face.’”

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By the end of the semester, the students will have logged 90 hours reconditioning and restoring the boat under the watchful eyes of local boating professionals, marine shops and even the U.S. Coast Guard. The volunteers are providing technical assistance, building materials, dock and boat yard space, and operational training to the students to help them learn more about boat repair.

It’s hands-on training in a field popular among students who have grown up along the Intracoastal Waterway.

“I want to captain charter boats when I grow up,” said Melody Rivera, a senior at Hilton Head High and the lone female student in the program. “People have always told me you should really study your boat before you get on it. I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here — I didn’t know it was going to be this hard but it’s been really fun.”

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The program is the brainchild of educational consultant Jennifer Winzeler, who was hired by Hilton Head Institute to develop initiatives the nonprofit institute could sponsor as part of its mission to improve Hilton Head’s future. After meeting with community members to identify the island’s needs, Winzeler said one issue stood out: Local marinas and boating companies can’t find qualified applicants to work on and repair boats. The necessary skills just aren’t being taught.

“We talked to people at Marine Tech and different marinas, and they were all in dire need of technicians,” she said. “Everybody has been so supportive.”

Local boat captain Tucker Brubaker is helping to teach the students about their boat, and said he wishes the program had been around when he was a student.

“If I’d had exposure to something like this when I was younger I would have gotten here sooner and made fewer mistakes,” he said.

That’s a sentiment shared by several Lowcountry marine business owners, and they hope that by donating materials, time and supplies to Students Underway they can encourage area students to pursue careers in the marine industry. And there are plenty of those types of jobs to be had.

“Marine Tech is a great example,” said Winzeler, who also is the director of development at Island Academy. “The technician who works there drives from Charleston every day because there’s just nobody here [to work].”

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Winzeler said there’s a donated slip at Hilton Head Marina waiting for the boat when the students have finished repairs. The program also has partnered with

Yamaha Marine Tech, which has provided textbooks and materials.

Next year the group is aiming at having two groups of five students. To selected students to participate, Winzeler works with local high school principals to identify interested candidates. Each finalist is interviewed. Winzeler is talking with the school district about possibly provide transportation to and from the marina for participants in the future. There is no cost to students for the program; it is funded entirely by monetary and in-kind donations.

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