Conference highlights opportunities for aspiring 'women on the water'
By Meghan Patrick Henderson, MSC Public Affairs
Women play a vital and growing role in the U.S. maritime arena. That was the recurring theme at the fourth annual Women on the Water Conference in Galveston, Texas, where Navy Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, delivered his keynote address to a sea of faces, including those of nearly 200 female U.S. maritime academy cadets.
More than a dozen of MSC's female civil service mariners and shoreside staff members joined Buzby at the Maritime Administration-sponsored conference, held Nov. 4-6 at the Texas Maritime Academy. The event brought cadets from all seven U.S. merchant marine academies into contact with leading professional women in the maritime industry. Throughout the course of three days, the attendees participated in panels, workshops and networking receptions to discuss the opportunities and challenges for women in seagoing jobs.
Buzby gave an overview of MSC and women who are in leadership roles at sea today. He highlighted that about 8 percent of MSC's mariners are women, and that percentage has been steadily rising from just 3 percent in 1992. He also noted that MSC current has more than 380 female civilian mariners, including 64 officers, 33 of whom are licensed officers.
Buzby recognized some of the key women who are part of MSC's seagoing leadership team. They included civil service master Capt. Amy Esquida, a Texas Maritime graduate who is in command of MSC fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux; four first officers; 20 second and third officers; nine second and third assistant engineers; 14 pursers; three supply officers, four boatswain's mates and others in all of MSC's unlicensed ratings.
Buzby left some advice with his audience. "I think it is very important to have a cadre of trusted confidants that you can turn to for advice and counseling," he said. He urged them to heed the leadership advice he was given early in his career. "I was taught three pillars of service when I first went to sea: People first, be a professional and be a good shipmate."
Airica Dryden, a 2002 California Maritime Academy graduate and the operations officer aboard MSC fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser, represented civil service mariners during a panel discussion at the conference, and two Military Sealift Fleet Support Command human resources specialists were present to discuss MSC career opportunities with attendees.
"I'm pleased to participate at this year's WOW conference and rub shoulders with inspiring professional mariners," Dryden said. "I'm happy to showcase MSC and my personal experience within our fleet among such diverse industry representation."
Other notable speakers included Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, the incident commander during this year's Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; Capt. Sherry Hickman, a Houston ship channel pilot; Capt. Joy Manthey, a towing vessel captain for Kirby Inland Marine; Master/Chief Engineer Dana Woodruff, the Houston branch agent for the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association; and Capt. Michelle Gorman, the master/offshore installation manager aboard Diamond Offshore Drilling's SSDV Ocean Courage.
Buzby concluded his speech by acknowledging the diverse individuals and organizations that work together closely for success and safety in the maritime world.
"Let me just say 'thanks' to all of you for what you do every day in our industry," he said. "Whether you are actively sailing, working ashore in support of those who sail, or in training to work in our industry, you are making a commitment to the better of our country. The rewards are many, and few jobs place you as close to the awesome splendor and raw power of Mother Nature as a career at sea."
Susan Melow, MSFSC Public Affairs, contributed to this story.
Lessons learned: Career advice from female CIVMARs
First Officer Sarah Daleo, USNS Richard E. Byrd:
Try sailing on your license immediately after you graduate - even if you aren't sure it's the career path you want to pursue. There are few jobs that give you as much responsibility so early in your career. Getting to sea sooner rather than later will create a better set of options for you.
Laila Linares, engineer at MSC headquarters:
Stay on the cutting edge of technology. As we become more dependent on technology, some crew members are less comfortable or willing to go in that direction. But it's necessary to learn, especially on new ships, like MSC's new T-AKE class, where there's no other option.
First Officer Michelle Stark, USNS Charles Drew:
Get as much training completed as early as you can.
Second Officer Jennifer Dago, USNS Mercy:
Set goals and maintain your determination.
Third Assistant Engineer Jennifer Swanson, USNS Washington Chambers:
Stay connected to the graduates of your alma mater who have gone before you. They can be a wealth of information and experiences that can guide and help you in your career.
Second Officer Airica Dryden, USNS Henry J. Kaiser:
Know your goals for your sailing career. Once you reach your goals re-evaluate your life, giving thought to both professional and personal goals.
First Officer Tiffany Brockman, USNS Ericsson:
Value your friends. Your peers share a common set of experiences with you - things other people who don't sail may never understand. Your peers are a strong group of allies, and they'll be your friends for life.