The Calhoon MEBA Engineering School holds the distinction of being the first national maritime training plan designed by Union and industry. Fitting, as MEBA is the oldest maritime, and second oldest of all unions in the United States. The school is funded by Labor and Management, and governed by a Board of Trustees--six shipping companies' representatives and six union representatives.
Today’s school grew out of "Operation LEAP" (Licensed Engineers Apprentice Program). MEBA President, Jesse Calhoon, established Operation LEAP after being approached by government and industry leaders in the mid-1960s to help find a way to meet the critical shortage of qualified marine engineers needed during the Vietnam war. To satisfy the demand, this program, renamed the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in 1966, took high school graduates through two years of intense study, including six months of sea time. Later, the program expanded to three years, with a full year of sea duty. By balancing traditional classroom work with hands-on equipment training, it prepared cadets for a career in the merchant marine upon their graduation.
Early news clippings serve as a profound reminder of how much has changed over the last three decades. Originally located in Baltimore, Maryland, first at the Emerson Hotel and later at the Southern Hotel, the school earned significant public acclaim for its uniqueness. The school occupied the entire 14 floors of the Southern Hotel. Some sleeping rooms remained as living quarters, while others were converted to modern classrooms, technical shops, and a medical clinic. A grand ballroom, once famous for its dances, became a gym with a boxing ring, basketball court, and volleyball net.
The first class graduated from the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in October 1968. News articles describing that event acknowledge the wonderful opportunity the school presented to the 19 young men who made up that class. One article claims the best inducement for attending the program is that in addition to it being free, a cadet received $200 pay per month while in training, and upon graduation, would have the skills and knowledge which would enable him to earn a salary commensurate with an upper level corporate executive.
The school was home to many a homesick young man or woman. Here they found support and encouragement from their peers and the many staff and instructors that helped them complete a unique, difficult and demanding curriculum. The city of Baltimore provided many diversions and a welcome relief from study.
Anticipating a need to expand their Baltimore operation in the mid 1970s, MEBA purchased 656 acres just outside Easton, Maryland from the now defunct Kirkland Hall Junior College. This acquisition involved two Miles River shorefront estates - Kirkland Hall (now called the Manor House) and Perry Hall, a historic Maryland plantation with an intriguing past. In the beginning, only the Lifeboat/Sea Survival and Diesel Engineering courses were taught at the new site. Eventually, the entire Baltimore operation relocated to Easton. Starting in 1979, the farm and estate buildings were converted to campus use. The existing dining hall was refurbished. In addition, a spacious residence hall, gymnasium, modern classroom-administration building and Olympic-sized pool were built on the Manor House property and remain today.
Another 7 acre tract purchased by the union in 1984 linked the Manor House campus and Perry Hall estate. This property, known as Peach Orchard, boasts an elegant brick home with four bedrooms, a garage apartment and an outside swimming pool. Renovations to this house, Perry Hall, the Manor House, and several smaller guest quarters resulted in excellent lodging and conference accommodations for maritime meeting attendees, legislative visitors, trustees, and other guests.
The Cadet program ended with the downturn of the shipping industry in the 1980's. After a 1991 restructuring, the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School refocused to providing continuing educational and upgrading opportunities for licensed MEBA officers. From 2001 - 2005, a new conference center, cafeteria, state-of-the-art bridge simulator, and the 10 acre Merchant Marine Memorial were constructed.
Since its inception in 1966, the school has provided quality training solely to the members and contracted company employees of the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association. Commencing May 1, 2007, the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School began providing educational and training services as well as certificate programs to all maritime and technical industry professionals.
Today, more than fifty courses are offered and additional courses are continually being developed. Additional off-site, evening, and special courses supplement the course schedule. Instructors must meet the highest standards, including recent, proven and demonstrable proficiency in their field. Facilities include accommodations for families and provisions for recreation and after-hours study.
As technology advances and as national and international maritime standards change, the school adapts its curriculum to ensure that students stay current with the skills and knowledge necessary to keep waterbourne vessels as well as shoreside equipment and facilities safe, competitive, and professionally maintained.