Extreme Minds Have Extreme Results: The United States Merchant Marine

Collage image featuring students participating in various maritime and other activities.

Whether or not you apply, the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMAA) at King’s Point, New York, should be on every aspiring maritime student’s list of college to check out.

USMMA grads come home with amazing stories about their experiences at the Academy, and they achieve the skills and recommendations to pursue basically any maritime career they could dream of.

USMMA students Alexis Farnsworth and LeRoid Jones, Jr., spoke with us at Fast Forward about their adventures at the Academy, and why it’s giving them high hopes for their futures in the maritime industry.

A young woman in uniform speaks to the camera. Behind her is a dorm room.

Click a button to watch our interviews with Alexis Farnsworth and LeRoid James, Jr.:

Alexis was 2014’s Miss Teen Phoenix United States. But something she enjoys even more than competing in pageants is working on ship’s engines. At the Academy, her heavy emphasis on math and science courses is helping her earn a degree in marine engineering. By the time she graduates, she’ll have the skills to repair some of the largest engines in the world. “Ships engines are usually five stories tall, maybe more,” she told Fast Forward, noting that being five-foot-four hasn’t slowed her down. “I take the most math and science courses out of anyone at my school,” she said. “I’m also the only girl doing that major. It’s nice to be able to know that I can work on an engine if I need to. You kind of have that self-sufficiency of, ‘Ok—if this breaks down, I can fix it.’”

Alexis told us she decided to pursue marine engineering because it presented so many different opportunities, such as world travel. She also knew that attending the Academy would give her options and a competitive edge after graduation.

“[After college] I plan on sailing for five years, and then I want to see what opportunities open up after that,” she said. “I love that you can just travel anywhere. And it’s not like you’re on vacation where you have to pay for everything. And these are places that, some of them you wouldn’t even be allowed to vacation to.”

She advised students who are considering a maritime school like USMMA to consider taking extra math and science courses in high school, or even trying out advanced placement courses.

“I definitely think it’s important to jump at those advanced placement and honors classes if you can. I did that in high school. At first I didn’t think I was cut out for it. I thought it might be too hard or too much work. So I started with one class just to see how it would go. … it’s basically like practice for college, so you come into college and you already have all that experience under your belt.”

Thanks to the Academy, Alexis has honed her engineering skills in real-life settings aboard ships while traveling to places like Japan.

“You’re able to apply what you’re learning as you’re learning it,” she said.

LeRoid is studying at USMMA to become a ship’s deck officer in the marine transportation industry. Some of his classes focus on navigation, maritime law, and logistics. He’s also a professional bodybuilder and plays on the rugby team at King’s Point. LeRoid spoke to us about what it means to be a student at USMMA and what four years at the Academy might look like.

“You spend the first full year studying either deck or engine,” he said. “Sophomore year and junior year you go to sea as a cadet. Then you come back as a senior to prepare for your license examination. It’s like a driver’s license to sail in the maritime industry.”

He also explained that the Academy is affiliated with the United States military. First-year students actually take the oath of office into the U.S. Navy Reserve. When they graduate, they pledge to either sail in the maritime industry for a defined period of time or go active duty in any branch of the military that they choose. For LeRoid, the first five years of his career will probably take place at sea on a commercial shipping vessel.

“Right now I plan on sailing in the maritime industry after I graduate,” he said. “I’m not sure which company yet.”

He told Fast Forward that attending the Academy has taken him all over the world, including to Bahrain, Singapore, India, China, Korea, and Malaysia. One of his most memorable voyages involved delivering grain to an impoverished country in Africa.

“It gives you a different perspective on things,” he said. Like Alexis, LeRoid urged Fast Forward readers to develop their math and science skills as early as possible if they are considering applying. This will help them later on when courses start to stack up.

“The biggest thing, especially at the Academy, is math and science classes your first year. If you can get a jump on those, that will be a huge help,” he said.

But, he said, that shouldn’t discourage students who may be less math-inclined from setting their sights on USMMA.

“Work for everything you have. Believe in yourself,” he said. “If you have some type of passion, if there’s something that you really want to do, then you can do it. If you have an extreme mind, you’ll have extreme results.”

To learn more about USMMA, including information on degrees, admissions requirements, and scholarship opportunities, visit their website at usmma.edu. The United States Merchant Marine is one of the major career paths for students considering the maritime industry so it is worth some time investigating the possibilities. Who knows? You just might find the college program you’ve been looking for.

And as always—be sure to keep following Fast Forward for more on amazing career opportunities in the transportation industry!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 5 - Maritime