Editor’s note-In this exclusive interview with Erik Stromberg, executive director of Lamar University’s Center for Port Management, we discover how the center’s advanced and continuing education programs are taking professional development in the port industry to the next level.
Global Trade: What can professionals anticipate with a master’s degree in Port and Terminal Management from Lamar University?
Erik Stromberg: In brief, the goals for our graduates are, one, to improve their management skills and perform their current job better and, two, to increase their opportunities to grow their port and terminal management responsibilities.
Allow me to step back and talk about public port management, and the skills and aptitudes required for success. I should say that I am more familiar with the challenges of managing a public port than a private marine terminal, but there is overlap, as well as a significant difference.
Both require, to varying degrees, management skills and familiarity with the technical aspects of the industry, from planning, engineering and risk-based property and asset management, to business development; from government and public relations to terminal operations, safety and security; from IT and digital technologies to HR. In other words, both public and private port managers need to know how to run a business. While most port authorities lease out terminals and other facilities, many have decided their best interest lies in operating the terminals they own.
The most profound distinction, however, between a port authority and a private terminal operating company lies in their ultimate stakeholders. Private terminals are owned by family, management or investors, or if publicly traded, its shareholders. A port authority is a public enterprise ultimately owned by and accountable to the taxpayer.
The public aspect of managing the port creates a special challenge. It is my view that most public port industry leaders think of themselves as business people doing the public’s business, rather than public administrators trying to run an organization like a business. This is why our program is supported by Lamar’s Business College, as well as our Industrial Engineering Department. But the public aspect of port management must be abided. It doesn’t guarantee success, but ignoring public concerns is a risky strategy. And for every port authority, there are multiple public constituencies, further complicating matters.
Global Trade: Why should professionals pick this program to enhance their career?
Erik Stromberg: Simply put, there is no program devoted to the advanced education of port and marine terminal managers in the hemisphere. The asynchronous program is fully online, facilitating access by students from wherever they live. We have designed flexibility into the program to help our students accommodate a significant demand on their work and personal lives.
Taking one course per term, it typically takes two years to complete. Our program is affordable, at just over $14,000 for the master’s degree. Furthermore, based on the MOU Lamar has with the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), students with the Association’s Professional Port Manager certification can waive up to 15 credit hours toward their master’s degree.
Stepping back, a fundamental question is: “Why a master’s degree?” In the continuum of professional education and training, a master’s degree represents a commitment and a focus not available with continuing education or an undergraduate degree. Our students enter Lamar’s advanced education in port management program seeking the “mastery” of a set of interdisciplinary skills and knowledge for the purpose of their application in the management of ports and marine terminals. In other words, theoretical study is valued to the extent it can be applied in practice.
Our online platform facilitates not only access by working professionals entering the program as students, but also to the world of industry experts who sign up as adjunct faculty eager to teach what they’ve learned throughout their careers. Our students come from within the port and terminal operating industry seeking to enhance career opportunities, along with those from outside the port industry wanting to enter the exciting field of port and terminal management. Lamar’s interactive, online learning platform also facilitates the ability of students to learn from each other as well as from our faculty.
Global Trade: Can you briefly review what the student should expect in the way of course work?
Erik Stromberg: To start with, the 12-course program does not stretch the student’s quantitative skills (i.e., no calculus), but it’s still pretty intense. We have had exceptions, but one course per term seems to be enough for our working professional students to handle.
The port master’s degree curriculum pulls in business and industrial engineering courses that provide both technical knowledge and “soft-skills,” management education.
A summary of our degree program would mention the following:
-comprehensive and in-depth study and understanding of the public port and private marine terminal operating industry and the environment in which it operates
-analytical and decision-making skills
-leadership and team building skills
-lessons learned and best practices from industry experts, including student/faculty and student/student interaction
-online, asynchronous learning
-latest advances in technology and management
-focused and facilitated study opportunity of port and terminal operating industry
Global Trade: How does Lamar select the faculty for this program?
Erik Stromberg: Industry experts serving as adjunct faculty members teach fully half of our 12-course curriculum. I guide our students through Introduction to Port Management with a preponderance of guest lecturers. These industry veterans have an abiding interest not only in sharing their knowledge and experiences, but also continuing to learn and explore with our working professional students.
The remaining courses are taught by faculty from the Industrial Engineering Department and the College of Business. Every course is populated with guest lectures given by subject matter experts from outside the university.
Besides my Introduction to Port Management class, courses taught by our adjunct faculty are: Strategic and Facility Planning; Security and Emergency Management; Port Asset and Property Management; and Freight Transportation Logistics. Guest lecturers are used throughout the curriculum.
The center’s Advisory Board members play a very helpful role in both serving at times as guest lecturers, as well as suggestions for curriculum content and adjunct faculty.
Global Trade: Have Lamar Business and Industrial Engineering faculty been able to create or adapt existing graduate-level courses to accommodate the needs of a port management curriculum?
Erik Stromberg: Absolutely. With the addition of industry experts serving as guest lecturers, these courses blend theory and practice. Included are the following courses: Capital Planning and Implementation; Legal Framework of Ports and Trade; and Marine Terminal Operations.
Global Trade: How is Lamar University handling challenges with the pandemic while still providing educational excellence?
Erik Stromberg: The current crisis has disrupted the traditional classroom experience. However, the pandemic has spotlighted successful, remote learning platforms, including Lamar’s, which has been utilized for over a decade.
Given that access to potential students as well as adjunct faculty and guest lecturers is facilitated by online learning, the challenges presented by the pandemic have been minimized.
Center for Port Management Students Speak for Themselves
“I find the program challenging and providing new skills for how I manage my port projects and my decision-making process. I already see the value of the program as a tool to advance my career.”
-Ron Coddington, port engineer, the Port of Palm Beach
“It made me a better manager, broadening my perspective and forcing me to think more analytically about the issues I regularly deal with.”
-Larry Kelley, CEO, Port of Port Arthur (and the program’s first graduate)
“It is the only port-specific graduate program in the country that is focused on developing the interdisciplinary skills required of effective and impactful port managers. This means that students are exposed to every aspect of the port business, from business administration to engineering, economics to operations, and everything in between.”
-Sean Fairchild, U.S. citizen currently working as a port industry consultant in Bogota, Colombia
To learn more about Lamar University’s Center for Port Management master’s degree program, and other continuing education opportunities, visit lamar.edu/port management.