Alumni Spotlight: Michael Vanderbeek
Alumni Spotlight: Michael Vanderbeek MPL ’05
by Kimberly Ueyama
As the second busiest seaport in the United States, the Port of Long Beach plays an integral role in the economic growth and well being not only of California, but the nation as a whole. On any given day, a variety of goods travels through the Long Beach harbor, ranging from automobiles and petroleum to toys and furniture. Michael Vanderbeek, manager of strategic planning, is responsible for a host of projects and activities to help ensure the port’s success.
When Vanderbeek enrolled in the master of planning program at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development in 2003, he had every intention of pursuing a career in private development upon graduation. He credits SPPD with his introduction to, and interest in, the public sector.
“The combination of coursework and experience I gained while at USC led me to appreciate the role that public sector employees play in helping to improve the world around them,” he said. “That appreciation, in turn, led me to my current position.”
Indeed, Vanderbeek’s dedication to societal betterment perfectly coincides with his work at a global trading center like the Port of Long Beach.
His job entails coordinating the port’s annual strategic planning efforts, helping to identify its short- and long-term priorities, developing its annual budget document, and assisting with policy development — no small task for a hub of international economic activity. In addition, the port supports 1.4 million jobs throughout the United States and generates about $16 billion in annual trade-related wages statewide.
Collectively, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles play an astounding role in the national economy.
Trade volume worth $240 billion passes through these ports with imports arriving from across the globe, including China, Japan and Mexico. The ports facilitate the entry of such goods as furniture, automobiles and electronics, as well as the exportation of items ranging from fabric and raw cotton to scrap metal and resins.
Nationwide, 3.3 million people are employed because of the extent of the ports’ involvement in the national economy.
Vanderbeek attributes much of his preparation for an array of jobs and responsibilities to SPPD, and also noted that his academic exposure to issues like international commerce to environmental justice provided valuable knowledge.
“In addition to learning how to research and synthesize information quickly, I learned how to work collaboratively and effectively with people from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds and disciplines to solve complex problems,” he said. “This set of skills transferred seamlessly to my current position.”
With such expertise on hand, Vanderbeek has been part of a team whose ongoing commitment to becoming the “greenest port in the world” has served as a model for other seaports around the globe. Since joining the Port of Long Beach in 2005, the organization’s eagerness to collaborate with the community and other groups has greatly improved, producing significant environmental innovations.
“The improvements to local air quality that have resulted from our environmental strategies are significant despite the fact that they have been achieved in a relatively short amount of time,” Vanderbeek explained.
Continuing to enhance the Port’s contribution to environmental friendliness is an ongoing mission in which Vanderbeek is proud to be a part.
Creativity, innovation and flexibility are essential in Vanderbeek’s position. At SPPD, he honed these skills and learned how to use them in a professional setting.
“Many top graduate schools of public affairs function as ‘think bubbles’ for specific disciplines,” he said, “but few have the cross-fertilization of ideas and balance of academic and applied learning that SPPD has.”
By translating his experiences in the master of planning program to his professional life, Vanderbeek has successfully reached his goal of helping to improve the world around him.
Photo by Tom Queally