PROFILES IN EDUCATION
An Interview with Vice Admiral Joseph D. Stewart, Merchant Marine Academy
Of the five United States service academies—the Army at West Point, the Navy at Annapolis, the Coast Guard in New London, CT, the Air Force in Colorado Springs—the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), located on 82 glorious acres in Kings Point, L.I., is perhaps the least understood, an irony, considering that it is so close to the city and that its authorization in 1936, its full accreditation as a degree-granting institution in 1949 and its designation in 1956 as a permanent federal academic institution signaled a deepening investment by the government in maritime education. Indeed, the Academy motto—Acta Non Veba—Deeds, Not Words—could not be more appropriate today, given the post 9/11 challenge to secure cargo and insure the swift delivery of vital military and commercial goods all over the world. Many people don’t even realize that its 950 maritime students, called midshipmen (USMMA was the first federal academy to admit women to its Regiment), enter civil, not military, service. The cadets wear uniforms, but the Academy operates under the aegis of the Federal Department of Transportation. (Quick quiz: Who is the Secretary of the Department? [see below*].
Vice Admiral Joseph D. Stewart, Superintendent of the Academy, explains how USMMA carries out its mission to provide future officers with rigorous training in the Regimental System, whether graduates look to careers at sea, in maritime companies ashore or “as commissioned officers in a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Sixty-eight percent of last year’s class, for example, chose to sign up with a company or union and sail on merchant marine ships all over the world.
It is a glorious day outside the Admiral’s office. He sits at his desk in the large white administration building, Wiley Hall, once the home of fashion designer Henri Bendel and then owned by Walter D. Chrysler, whose heirs sold it to the Maritime Commission in 1942. A couple of ships sit quietly in Manhasset Bay, vessels owned by U.S. companies, registered and operating under the American flag, and part of USMMA’s fleet. Admiral Stewart is coming up on his tenth year. A graduate of the Naval Academy and retired from the Marine Corps as a much-decorated Major General who served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics in Washington, D.C. before coming to the Academy, Admiral Stewart had always been interested in education. He enjoys being around young people and loves math. In addition to his numerous executive duties at the Academy, he finds time every year to teach a course in pre-calculus, a subject vital to the education and training of midshipmen, whether they become deck or engineering officers. Deck officers are in charge of navigation, crew, passengers, cargo, customs and security; Engineering officers attend to a ship’s mechanical systems. There were six majors at USMMA when Admiral Stewart arrived in 1998, and there are six majors now—he likes the steady state—three in marine engineering and three in marine transportation, including nautical science and business. The Admiral is particularly pleased with new emphases on technology.
Last year 279 cadets were accepted from a pool of 7,000 applicants. Why do students want to go to USMMA? As “corny” as it sounds, the Admiral replies, the young people say they want to serve their country. They come from every state in the union and U.S. trust territories and possessions, after having been recommended by their state congressmen. Of course, there’s the free education, the lowest cost per student of all the service academies. Prospective applicants also know about USMMA’s reputation in varsity sports (28 now), for men and women, and are attracted to an institution that competes in Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Where other service institutions typically offer four-years of on-campus work, USMMA has a (discontinuous) unique Sea Year curriculum. Cadets leave campus twice for extended tours of 100 days each, receiving $732 a month in pay. The experience culminates in a Sea Project, “a massive correspondence course,” that testifies to the practical expertise learned at sea. The opportunity to sail to foreign ports is exciting but not without attendant dangers in times of military conflict. Still, the Admiral takes great pride in what is said about the current crop of midshipmen—their intelligence, perseverance, and behavior.
* Mary E. Peters. #