FSU President Visits Cumberland’s CSX Transportation to Learn More About Railroad’s Role in Regional Economy
Gibralter Interested in Positioning University as Key Resource for CSX Workforce
Western Maryland’s economic livelihood is never far from Dr. Jonathan C. Gibralter’s mind. When the Frostburg State University community persuaded him to get his portrait done, he agreed to entrust the task to one of the region’s most well-respected and beloved artists—Charlie Amos, a painter who made a name for himself in the art world by creating vivid images of trains, among many other subjects. Sitting for one of Amos’ portraits evolved into a friendship between Amos and Gibralter. Among their many conversations: the local economy and how to keep it going.
“Where does the workforce and higher education come together? It’s very important for me to figure out what we can do to help,” Gibralter said.
FSU’s president already had a track record of creating programs at previous institutions where he worked that were designed to foster local industries. For example, under his direction, Farmingdale State University created a bioscience degree program to help funnel potential employees to Farmingdale’s pharmaceutical and bioscience base.
Amos, who spent years working for the Western Maryland Railway as well as the U.S. Department of Transportation, knows a great deal about the local railroad industry in Western Maryland and the importance of keeping it alive.
“We need to do everything we can to keep it here,” Amos said.
So in July, the two decided to visit CSX’s branches in Cumberland to learn more about how the University could be involved in the company’s future. Stephen Spahr, FSU's Vice President for Economic Development and Government Relations who brings six years of working for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to his role at the University, joined them on their trip, one of several they’ve scheduled to learn more about CSX’s role in the region. At CSX’s Cumberland office, they met another ally of the local economy, and a strong supporter of FSU: Tim Yarnall, Director of Locomotive East at CSX. Yarnall’s daughter, Jennifer (Yarnall) Hamilton, graduated from FSU in 1988, and in addition to being a proud parent of an FSU alum, he’s also proud of the local economy’s ability to provide trained employees for positions at CSX.
“I want to make sure people in our area are given recognition in their backyard,” he said.
Yarnall worked closely with company employees like Tarah Harkins, manager of professional recruiting, to make sure CSX was aware of the potential for finding new employees at nearby schools like FSU. According to Hawkins, who visits various colleges and universities around the country to tell students about CSX’s career opportunities, industry deregulation has led to tremendous growth in revenue. CSX’s paid internships and management training programs provide college students and graduates with “a great opportunity for them to network.” The company also anticipates opening doors to a large number of new employees in the near future.
“About 30 to 50 percent of the workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years,” she said. “We’re going to have an enormous amount of attrition and probably a lot of openings.”
Harkins met Gibralter, Amos and Spahr during their summer visit to CSX, as well as FSU interns already working at the Cumberland facility who gave a presentation on the various projects they were developing at CSX.
“Not only was I impressed with the interns’ projects, but with the level of professionalism,” she said, noting that the internships and management training programs often lead to exciting job prospects for participants. “FSU is in a good place because Cumberland and the surrounding communities have tons of facilities.”
Sean Uthe, a physics graduate pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at FSU, is one of the interns currently working at CSX. His recent projects include creating an inventory database for CSX’s maintenance department and developing a tool to prevent water drain valve failures on locomotives. The tool’s design he helped devise will eventually be submitted to corporate headquarters for approval and “hopefully be mass produced for distribution to all CSX shops.”
“What I enjoy most about my internship is the real-world experience I am gaining … many of the systems and processes I have studied in my physics and engineering classes are found on the locomotives,” he said. “Also, since CSX is a large enterprise, I have been exposed to many different areas of the company, and I have learned how business and management decisions influence the actual role of engineers.”
Gibralter envisions other students like Uthe taking advantage of the valuable career experience a local company like CSX could offer. He is considering expanding FSU’s academic offerings to include courses tailored toward transportation management that would combine a focus in railroad transportation with a federal government professional pilot program at the Cumberland airport.
“Ever since I began as University president, my goal has been to meet workforce needs of the local area,” he said. “I believe in education for education’s sake. But I also believe in developing academic programs that benefit the local workforce.”
Yarnall also sees room for expansion at CSX for FSU students interested in getting on-the-job experience, opportunities that could easily go beyond physics and engineering to also include areas of study such as public relations and business.
“What we’re hoping to do is to expand the co-op program to incorporate administrative and managerial roles, in addition to engineers,” he said.
Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 13 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland.
For more information about FSU, contact the Office of Admissions at (301) 687-4201 or visit the University’s Web site at www.frostburg.edu.
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