Ready to Set Sail

Ingalls and MDE Partner on New Shipbuilder Academy Curriculum 

Brock Turnipseed

Aerial view of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula
Pictured is an aerial view of Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Pascagoula. Ingalls is the only U.S. shipyard currently building four classes of military ships: amphibious assault ships, amphibious transport docks, guided missile destroyers and national security cutters.
Photo by Derek Fountain, Huntington Ingalls Industries

Aerial view of Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula
Ingalls Shipbuilding and Gulf Coast representatives celebrate the opening of its new Shipbuilder Academy site in Gulfport. Ribbon-cutting ceremony participants included (left to right) Glen East, superintendent of Gulfport School District; Ciara Coleman, program manager for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Ingalls Shipbuilding President Brian Cuccias; Edmond Hughes, Ingalls’ vice president of human resources and administration; and John R. Kelly, chief administrative officer for the City of Gulfport.
Photo by Derek Fountain, Huntington Ingalls Industries

Ingalls Shipbuilding, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, sits right in the heart of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and plays a valuable role in providing employment and support to the community.

An industry leader in building high-quality ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, Ingalls seeks to build a strong local workforce. One way it does that is through the creation of the Ingalls Shipbuilder Academy (ISA), a one-year career and technical education (CTE) program launched in 2016 for high school seniors that provides industry-specific training to students in area school districts and a pipeline for future employment with the company.

Starting with the 2020-2021 academic year, a new Mississippi State Board of Education-approved curriculum — one developed by the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit for the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) — will provide state recognition for the credentials and college credit students earn in the program.   

These students have the opportunity to learn in two locations: the Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula and the Gaston Point College and Career Readiness Institute in Gulfport. There, ISA Manager Victoria Hunt said, students are introduced to the shipbuilding industry through the exploration of the different maritime trades employed at Ingalls. Throughout the program, students are rotated through maritime crafts and participate in hands-on projects, “making them more aware of the responsibilities of that particular craft.”

In addition to this hands-on experience, the ISA also gives these students valuable exposure to what is required to be a dependable employee, which ties in with the MDE’s goal of creating college-and career-ready employees. Hunt said holding students to high accountability standards is essential in preparing them for a future career at Ingalls or elsewhere. 

“We treat this program like employment,” Hunt said. “Students are held to Ingalls Shipbuilding attendance, responsible for clocking in and out, being safe while working and being interviewed throughout the year.” 

Skills learned at the ISA also benefit students if they choose to continue their education at the postsecondary level. 

The ISA offers dual-credit opportunities, with students receiving nationally recognized credentials from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and 6 hours of CTE credit from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

Employing an NCCER core in the current ISA curriculum helped make the writing of the new SBE-approved curriculum much easier for the writing team that included Hunt and other Ingalls representatives —Workforce Training Manager Doug Hudson, Workforce Development Manager Garry Mercer and Apprentice School Manager Bobby Lamb — MGCCC instructor Beth Worsham, RCU Curriculum Manager Brad Skelton and RCU Instructional Design Specialist Melissa Luckett. 

Skelton said the team based most of the curriculum off the ISA’s current structure. The curriculum offers two core track options: a shipbuilding core and a naval architecture core. Students needing an NCCER core start with the shipbuilding core that focuses on interpersonal and employability skills, student organizations and introductions to areas including construction math, hand and power tools, construction drawings and materials handling and basic rigging. 

Students who have already completed an NCCER core go into the naval architecture track that begins with an introduction to shipbuilding and blueprint reading. The track also includes units on ship construction and a shipbuilding project.

After completing those two core tracks, students move into a shipbuilder exploration track that includes NCCER-aligned objectives including welding, sheet metal, industrial coating, insulation, electrical and support crafts.

Having these NCCER-aligned objectives in place, much of the curriculum writing team’s work focused on transferring existing material and then aligning new pieces such as student organizations and interpersonal and employability skills — those that help students achieve the SBE’s goal that every student graduates from high school and is ready for college and career — to NCCER certification standards.

While the state-approved curriculum allows ISA students to receive nationally recognized credentials and college credit, Skelton said it now also provides the opportunity for the curriculum to be implemented in other locations. This means more students will have additional opportunities to earn NCCER credentials and further develop skills taught at the ISA such as safety, problem-solving, critical thinking, occupational math and basic craft skills such as measuring, communication and teamwork.

The skills currently taught in the ISA and the new curriculum also offer exposure to an industry that could lead to a long, successful career.

“The Shipbuilder Academy creates career opportunities for those interested in working right out of high school versus going to college, the military and so forth.” Hunt said. “The maritime industry is always looking for people interested in working in the industry, and the ISA is willing to teach individuals the trades so that they can have the information to make a career choice.”

Approximately 119 students have graduated from the ISA since its inception, and 43 of those began careers with Ingalls.

No matter the postsecondary paths chosen by students, Hunt said that the ISA’s aim has been to “prepare them for the real word every chance” the company can — that’s also MDE’s aim as the two entities partner to build a strong workforce that shapes a bright future for the local and state economies. 


Connections is the magazine for K-12 career and technical education (CTE) in Mississippi. The biannual publication features students, educators, schools, and organizations from approximately 50 career pathways across 16 career clusters. This Mississippi Department of Education publication is produced by the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University. Issues are disseminated in print and electronic forms in May and December each year.

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