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Last summer, North Charleston native Dennis Smith became the first student to graduate from the new Marine Engineering Technology associate degree program at Trident Technical College.

Leading to a career as a U.S. Merchant Marine with the Seafarers International Union (SIU), this exciting new program includes a year-long apprenticeship at The Sea Farers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point, Maryland, along with cooperative work experience at sea.

Though Smith admits a career at sea isn’t for everyone – it can be dangerous, physically demanding and monotonous – he is excited for the challenge.

“You must be mature, confident in your skills and ready to work without distractions,” he said. 

During his apprenticeship, Smith worked on two vessels, the Ocean Gladiator and Overseas Key West, and his U.S. ports of call were Houston, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Sunny Point, NC. The overseas ports visited were in Morocco, Spain, Israel and Wales.

It was his desire to travel that led him to the Army after graduating from Fort Dorchester High School in 2007. Smith spent eight years in the Army as a 91C, officially known as Utilities Equipment Repairer, predominantly on HVAC and refrigeration units.

After the Army, he landed at Trident Tech, eager to advance his education and earn the necessary certifications to get to work.

In the meantime, Robert Elliott, Dean of Manufacturing and Maintenance, and a former Merchant Marine himself, was developing the new program at TTC.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Elliott, “I was in for 16 years, made great money and loved being able to see the world.”

There are six to eight personnel that work in the engine room of a ship, operating, maintaining and repairing the mechanical and electrical systems that power and operate the vessels. Marine engineering techs earn $10,000 a month, and once they move to engineer, they can earn up to $200,000 a year.

Elliott had been advising Smith since he started at TTC, and once the new program launched, he suggested it as an option. Smith had completed most of the required classes and the only thing left to complete was the apprenticeship.

“As soon as I heard about it, I was in,” said Smith, “I wanted to get back to traveling.”

Smith shipped out as soon as he finished his apprenticeship and recently bought his first house in Columbia, South America, where his girlfriend lives.

“That’s the best part: you can work from anywhere in the world,” he said.

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Robert Elliott, Dean, Manufacturing and Maintenance and TTC's Berkeley Campus

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