TAMPA — Some of the students entered Jeremy Pacheco's class at Blake High School as an afterthought, others after developing water-borne interests such as scuba diving.
What they've all learned excites them: The shipping industry needs workers, lots of them, which means scholarship opportunities and high-paying jobs.
"I hope to be making over $80,000 and I'll be on a boat a least six months of the year," said 17-year-old Stephanie Smith, the diver.
Smith is one of four students in Pacheco's maritime studies class who will spend a week this summer, all expenses paid, at Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in Easton, Md., to learn more about the industry.
A fifth student, Brian Bonilla, made the trip last summer and will join the group for a second tour if there is room.
Supported by Port Tampa Bay's Propeller Club, the Hillsborough County school district has offered maritime studies programs for the past several years, first at Blake and Stewart Middle and now as a magnet program at Jefferson High.
The partnership makes sense, school officials say, as Port Tampa Bay alone offers a large number and variety of job opportunities.
Industry leaders say most maritime workers are in their 40s and 50s with the average age rising, creating a demand for workers in the coming decades.
"The port needs people," said 24-year-old Pacheco, who got into this discipline somewhat accidentally after graduating from the University of Florida with a degree in environmental science.
Students say the Blake program went through several teachers, and some growing pains, as it got established.
Today it covers a progression of topics, including geography and oceanography, mapping, charting and the history of ships, as well as environmental sciences and career information.
In addition to opportunities such as the Maryland trip, students can get paid summer internships at the Tampa port.
"It gives you the opportunity to see a lot more than what you are confined to in one place like Florida," said Bonilla.
Robert Moncrief, 15, said he has enjoyed the field trips to the port.
"I think it would be cool to work like that every day," he said. "I want to explore the world."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3356.