Retired marine diving teacher inducted to Diving Hall of Fame

KATHYVAN TRAN, Associate Editor

Retired assistant professor Mike Von Alvensleben, who taught marine diving technology at City College for 16 years, was inducted into the 2016 Commercial Diving Hall of Fame.

The annual “Underwater Intervention” convention, where his formal induction took place, was on Feb. 21 in New Orleans, LA.

“I didn’t expect it,” Von Alvensleben said in a phone interview. “It had been a lot of years and it was something that I would have loved to be indoctrinated into and it happened. [I was] a bit surprised.”

To be inducted into the hall of fame, divers are nominated by someone. The nominations, which are kept confidential from nominees, are put forth through two committees from the Association of Diving Contractors International. The committees consider the diver’s contributions to the diving world including developing programs committed to safe training, Von Alvensleben said.

Von Alvensleben was nominated by Brett A. Fernholz, a detective at the investigation bureau at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fernholz attended one of Von Alvensleben’s dive classes at Kirby Morgan Professional Dive Center in Santa Maria. He said he nominated Von Alvensleben not only because of his decades of experience as an instructor and diver, but because of his personality and ability to translate complex diving instruction into easily understood information.

“His passion for teaching other divers survival techniques underwater is phenomenal,” Fernholz said in a phone interview. “He stands out as one of the best instructors-—probably the best instructor in my diving career—and I’ve gone through a number of diving instructors.”

Von Alvensleben started at City College in 1983 where he was instrumental in shaping the careers of numerous divers, including marine diving professor Don Barthelmess. He retired in 1999.

“Mike was sort of my mentor,” said Barthelmess, who started working at City College in 1989. “He made me a better diver.”

In 2011, Von Alvensleben joined Kirby Morgan Professional Dive Center as the Director of Training. There he teaches and trains officers within law enforcement, FBI, Homeland Security and other professional groups in the proper procedures, safety and maintenance of surface supplied diving equipment to ensure safe everyday rescue and recovery. In addition to Barthelmess, the center also employs assistant professor Dan Vasey and alum Blair Mott.

“His ability to really stress the procedures and training on the safety of diving has been a big impact,” Mott said. “Now that I’m working with him, I can see the importance of what he is still preaching.”

Prior to working at City College, Von Alvensleben worked as a commercial diver where he accomplished tasks ranging from repairing pipelines to recovering a penetrator missile, to being one of the first divers to breathe a hydrogen oxygen gas mix. He also served in the US Navy for five years where he was a member of Underwater Demolition Team 12.

“He’s been doing this his entire life,” Barthelmess said. “Mike is now in his 70s. He’s still working and training.”

Von Alvensleben joins nine other fellow divers from Santa Barbara to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Other inductees include Bev Morgan, the owner of commercial diving equipment company Kirby Morgan International, who helped establish the marine diving technology program at City College back in 1968.

“[Mike] is a self-made man,” Mott said. “I have a lot of admiration for him.”