by Stephen Lyman, Director, Port Newark International Seafarers’ Center
From May 9–10, 2016, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) hosted Teach Fleet, an interactive exhibit of LEGO ship models, at its Port Newark International Seafarers’ Center. Approximately 250 people came through the Institute’s doors to explore miniature versions of tugboats, supertankers and other maritime vessels made from the iconic colorful interlocking plastic bricks.
Various groups and individuals attended the event, which included presentations on the vessels and their relevance to the industry. Over 100 second- through fourth-graders and chaperones from the Cleveland Street School in Orange, NJ along with home school groups, Boy Scout troops, port employees and others from the community enjoyed building their own ship models and exploring the pre-built versions of maritime vessels displayed at SCI’s Center. Representatives from Sandy Hook Pilots Association and the New Jersey chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans spoke with guests about their real-world experiences in the industry.
Former naval architect Commodore Wilbert McKinley founded the Teach Fleet program to promote careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and to celebrate diversity and encourage an interest for future maritime industry jobs. Each LEGO ship model—some 200 of them—is named in honor of a female or minority STEM contributor.
SCI received support for the event from several industry stakeholders, including the New York Shipping Association, American Merchant Marine Veterans (NJ), Seafarers International House and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. With them, the Institute shares a common interest in making sure the future of shipping looks promising, presenting exciting opportunities for today’s youth. From its open-to-the-public Center in Port Newark, SCI regularly invites people to get an “insider’s view” of a working port. Collaborating with others to host events like Teach Fleet opens up this world to all kinds of people.