This year’s class of freshmen (plebes), inducted into the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on September 7th, reflects the changing landscape of what was once an exclusively male career path.

Of the 237 inductees, the Class of 2017 includes 38 women – accounting for 16 percent of the new class – giving the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy its highest class ratio of females to males in ten years.  The new class took its Academy oath as part of the Academy’s Acceptance Day Ceremony; a ceremony that signifies the transition of these so-called “plebe candidates” to “plebes”.  Congressionally nominated, the candidates arrived at the Academy on July 2nd for Indoctrination – 18 days of military, physical, and academic training.

Upon swearing in the new class, Vice Admiral Robin R. Bruan, Chief of Navy Reserve, stated, “As future leaders in the regiment of midshipmen the opportunity to excel in academics, athletics and leadership will mark your next four years.  For the Academy, you’ll represent our greatest achievement when you graduate as the next generation of American leaders to serve the nation’s marine transportation and defense needs for decades to come.”

The trend toward more minorities with careers in the maritime industry – the Class of 2017 has 22 percent minority representation in all – has been gathering speed over the last few years, as employers increasingly seek to diversify their staffs, and as many restrictions once imposed on hiring minorities (particularly in the military) are relaxed.

“The trend on both women and other minorities has been on the upswing for the last several years,” commented Rear Adm. James Helis. “The Merchant Marine Academy is a national institution . . . so the Regiment of Midshipmen needs to be reflective of — look like — the nation that we are here to serve.”

Says Alissa Fentress, member of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s Class of 2017, “I think there’s more women in general in the military. The benefits here are outstanding, coming out of this school.”

The Academy places emphasis in its curriculum on math and science, and nearly half of its students study engineering.  With the oil and gas industry booming, and consequently experiencing a shortage of qualified engineers, the Academy’s curriculum is certainly in line with industry needs.  And the trend of increased female presence in the maritime industry is particularly evident with oil and gas.  According to a recent survey by Rigzone, nearly half of the new jobs in the oil industry over the last year went to women.

Based on Academy data, the Class of 2013 only included 10.3 percent women, and the Academy historically attracts far more males than females.  But Helis is confident that recruitment efforts are strong.  He asserts that although the Academy is behind other similar institutions in the country regarding its minority population, it’s working to close the gap.

Paul Jaenichen is the acting maritime administrator for the United States Department of Transportation.  He admits that “[i]t is a very challenging academic environment and a very rigorous training environment, so it’s not for everybody. In order to entice some of our diverse candidates, it takes a strong outreach program.”

The trend toward having an increased minority – and more specifically, female – population in both the service academies and military branches in the United States is not likely to slow down any time soon.  The maritime industry is in a huge upswing, and there is a shortage of qualified workers across the board.  There is certainly no lack of opportunity for well-trained, credentialed maritime employees.  For women and minorities, the time is particularly ripe to break into a new career in the maritime industry.


Don’t miss out on the opportunities available!  If you are looking to get your start as a maritime worker, but don’t think you can afford the training necessary to make your dream into a reality, The Marine Award Program might just be the solution you’re looking for.  See our Overview for more details and to find out if you’re eligible.  There is a lot of money to be made in this growing industry – will you be a part of the boom?