Landlocked Texas A&M University seemed an unlikely locale to launch the first and only maritime academy in Texas — or anywhere in the U.S. other than on the east and west coasts — but that is what transpired here a half-century ago.
That event— when 23 Texas Maritime Academy cadets began classes here 50 years ago this month – will be formally commemorated Friday (Sept. 21) when officials representing Texas A&M and its branch campus, Texas A&M University at Galveston, assemble outside Aggieland’s historic YMCA Building, where the cadets’ first classes were held. The ceremonies are set for 3 p.m.
The Texas Maritime Academy, now a major part of Texas A&M University, enrolls about 447 cadets who are studying for careers in marine transportation, marine engineering and NROTC.
Many of its graduates now hold positions as captains and in other highly responsible assignments aboard ships around the world, as well as in various maritime management positions with major shipping firms, port authorities and other public and private entities.
Among those scheduled to speak at the Friday ceremonies is Captain Jack Smith, who was one of the first 22 Texas Maritime Academy cadets and now serves as captain of the academy’s training ship, the General Rudder.
The ship is named in honor of Gen. James Earl Rudder, who served as president of Texas A&M from 1959 until his death in 1970 and was instrumental in the establishment of the Texas Maritime Academy.
Smith will be joined by Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, who previously served as head of the Galveston campus; John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System; and Rear Admiral Robert Smith III, president and CEO of Texas A&M-Galveston; and Richard A. Box, chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents
Texas A&M-Galveston, known as TAMUG, started classes in 1962 first as a marine laboratory and as the home of the Texas Maritime Academy, one of only six in the United States and the only one on the Gulf coast.
As TAMUG historian Stephen Curley, who also serves as an English professor, writes, “When it began, TAMUG consisted of all-male students who wore the uniform of the Corps of Cadets and attended classes in College Station. It was a brand-new program with students majoring either in marine transportation or marine engineering.”
In 1965, Sea Cadets took their first cruise aboard the Texas Clipper, TAMUG’s training ship, and the school eventually constructed buildings in Galveston. Long-time benefactor and Aggie graduate George P. Mitchell donated a large section of land to the school, and TAMUG’s campus on Pelican Island bears his name today.
In 1966, the first class of Sea Cadets graduated from TAMUG and also that year, Texas A&M was designated as a Sea Grant institution.
In 1979, The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted to rename the institution Texas A&M University at Galveston and a new classroom laboratory opened its doors for classes.
Through the years, TAMUG has served as a branch campus of Texas A&M, with school officials noting that “the ocean is our classroom,” and graduates receive their Aggie ring and a Texas A&M diploma during graduation ceremonies at Galveston.
On Sept. 10, 2008 Hurricane Ike devastated the Galveston area and TAMUG officials moved more than 1,900 students, faculty and staff to the main campus in College Station in what is believed to be the largest move of its kind in U.S. academic history. Classes resumed on the Galveston campus for the spring 2009 semester.
The series of Texas Clipper ships were replaced, and a new ship, the Gen. Rudder was named during ceremonies on June 6 for the late Gen. Rudder, who commanded the fabled Army Rangers during their scaling of Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on the French coast.
Today, TAMUG has more than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students and classes are offered in business, science, engineering, technology and liberal arts. About 360 of them are pursuing U.S. Merchant Marine licenses issued through the Texas Maritime Academy.