Scholarship Helping Students In Maritime Field

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Eight students from Ketchikan are expected to attend California State University Maritime Academy in the upcoming 2022-23 school year, supported by the Lund Maritime Memorial Scholarship, SEALink Executive Director Ralph Mirsky told the Daily News in a recent interview.

“To me, that’s phenomenal,” Mirsky said.

Ketchikan based organisation

SEALink is a Ketchikan-based organization that connects Alaska and Ketchikan-area residents to maritime training and jobs. More than 100 people from Ketchikan have benefited from the Lund scholarship and the SEALink-sponsored programs, and more than 700 people statewide have been assisted by SEALink to enter maritime training.

SEALink is a nonprofit started in 2021 by Mirsky and his wife, Lauren. Mirsky said he had been working at Ketchikan High School as a school-to-work coordinator and he saw that there were many youths who could benefit from a program that would support their strengths. The dropout rate at that time in Ketchikan was one of the highest in the state, Mirsky said.

“I thought to myself, ‘You were one of those kids — you need to do something about this,’” Mirsky said.

As a retired California law enforcement officer, Mirsky said he still had a drive to serve his community. He had moved to Ketchikan after retirement so he could fish more, and had been charter fishing in the summers.

Grant covers operational and training costs

Mirsky explained in an email to the Daily News that he created SEALink based on a Job Training Partnership grant that covered operational costs and participants’ training costs. Through that, SEALink was required to recruit statewide for participants to specifically attend the Seafarers International Union’s affiliated Paul Hall Maritime Training School located in Piney Point, Maryland.

Over the years, SEALink applied for and received grants through the Workforce Investment Act, as well as the federal National Emergency Act in 2003/2004 to recruit statewide for a specialized training program and guaranteed jobs through the Seafarers International Union, Mirsky wrote. They also recruited statewide with commercial fishermen when the salmon industry slumped.

Lund scholarship

SEALink also connects Ketchikan-area high school graduates or GED recipients with the Lund scholarship, which was funded by a $2.5 million donation from Eunice Seversen in honor of her son, William Lund.

The Lund scholarship offers $20,000 annually for Cal Maritime students from Ketchikan.

SEALink not only assists students in attending Cal Maritime and the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education but also assists in upgrading their licensing after graduation, when needed.

“I can’t tell you how successful it’s been,” Mirsky said.

Of the original $2.5 million donation to the Lund scholarship fund, Mirsky said that SEALink has spent more than $1.8 million, and that the fund’s principal has been left intact. SEALink also has federal funds that Mirsky said are used to assist students from locations across Alaska.

“It’s just a phenomenal career for a kid who doesn’t mind working,” Mirsky said.

Micah Stickwan is a Ketchikan High School graduate who graduated from Cal Maritime in 2021 with the assistance of a Lund scholarship. He spoke with the Daily News about his scholarship and his experiences with the academy in a recent telephone interview.

He said he first became interested in a maritime career through the encouragement of his father and his father’s friends.

At first, Stickwan said he thought he’d focus on the school’s engineering program, but then realized, “it’s not really my type of thing. I want to be up on the deckside — I want to be on the bridge, controlling the ship.”

Stickwan said that his Kayhi counselor was very helpful in guiding him to the Lund scholarship, which turned out to be a huge benefit for him.

“I was expecting to be in debt,” he said, “a lot of my friends were in debt.”

He added that he didn’t really realize at first how much the Lund scholarship was going to help and when he began to see how much the $10,000 per semester was going to assist him he thought, “what’s the catch?”

He laughed when he added, “there’s no catch.”

The scholarship money, Stickwan said, “helped alleviate all of my stress with being in debt. I was being paid to go to school, which was super nice.”

Not only was the money a boon for Stickwan, but he said that Ralph and Lauren Mirsky were immensely supportive and helpful.

Constant learning

When Stickwan was having a difficult time keeping up with an intense course load in his sophomore year, Ralph Mirsky told him, “We’re going to get through this. Don’t even worry about it” — and Mirsky took the time to counsel him.

The relief was palpable, Stickwan said, and when he heard Mirsky’s message on his phone’s voicemail, “I almost started crying.”

Stickwan said that he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in science with a minor in naval science. He also finished up with a US Coast Guard license as a third mate unlimited, allowing him to work as a deck officer. He is also a commissioned officer in the US Naval Reserves.

Stickwan now works as a mate on the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries, moving from ship to ship.

“It’s really fun, especially when you’re starting out,” he said. “You’re constantly learning all this stuff — like drinking water through a fire hose — you really don’t know that much when you come out of the academy, but you know how to learn things. You’re just familiar with things so you can learn it faster.”

Stickwan said he is now working to earn his pilotage license.

Graduating from Cal Maritime has offered Stickwan “lots of opportunities,” he said.

He said his advice for high school students pondering whether to enter a maritime career is that “it’s a really good opportunity if you like being on the water and you like being up on deck and maybe doing some maps, and mainly just getting the feel of a ship, and you’re out there in any sea or Great Lake or whatever.

“If you want to be doing that kind of stuff, go through the program that I did,” he added.

He said that students who aren’t sure about working on deck can study engineering to focus on working on ships’ engines, and that there are shoreside jobs that a graduate can also pursue. Cal Maritime also offers degrees such as business and biology, Stickwan said.

“I definitely would recommend going to school and sticking with it, and that builds a lot of character. I know I completely changed from when I graduated high school. When I graduated high school, I thought I knew everything,” Stickwan said, chuckling.

He added that as he worked his way through college, “I realized how much I didn’t know.”

He described Cal Maritime as a challenging school that focuses on academics and hard work.

Stickwan said that he feels that Cal Maritime offers an opportunity to build relationships and a community as well.

“When you go to that school, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl, you’re going to build a brotherhood or a sisterhood,” he said.

Ketchikan High School graduate Lukas Oswald also graduated from Cal Maritime in 2021, and works for AMHS as a third mate/deck officer.

Oswald said that former Kayhi counselor Bob McClory persuaded him to attend Cal Maritime.

Interesting challenges

Oswald said his degree is in marine transportation. The classes he took included Small Craft, where he and fellow students were able to get hands-on training while taking smaller boats out on the water. Another class was Ship Handling, where they also got hands-on experience taking larger vessels to practice landings in various locations and in different currents and other conditions.

A class titled Nav Piloting allowed students to practice guiding vessels through the waters near Vallejo, California, where the academy is located. Those waters offered interesting challenges, Oswald said, with many narrow channels and variable currents.

“You spend a lot of time in the boats if you do it right,” he said.

At the end of students’ senior year, they take the test to receive their USCG license, allowing them to go right to work.

He said he wasn’t focused on pursuing a career with AMHS at first. As his education went on, however, he began to see working on the ferries as a more interesting career choice. He said that he did his “commercial cruise” with AMHS, which students completed between their sophomore and junior years, and he enjoyed his time on one of those working vessels after having worked only on training ships.

“It was a good enough experience, I wanted to come back here and work,” he said.

He now lives in Juneau, where it is a bit easier to access the vessels for his shifts.

Oswald said there are many opportunities for career positions within AMHS. He said he has plans to upgrade his own license to Chief Mate Master, which he anticipates should take several years to achieve, and would allow him to fill the role as captain of a vessel.

Oswald said he enjoys the unpredictability of his everyday work on the ships.

“Some days, the weather’s really nasty, that’s going to be really interesting. Some days you’re driving in a straight line and then all of a sudden a whale pops up in front of you, and you’re like, ‘Oh crap, well I’ve got to go around the whale,’ — it happens more often than you’d think.

Some days you just have a really interesting traffic situation, some days you’re transiting through narrows — there’s a lot of variety and every kind is never the same,” he said.

Oswald said that the biggest challenge to the maritime career is “you give up a lot.”

He explained that his schedule is two weeks on and two weeks off, but when fellow officers get sick or otherwise become unavailable, he might be notified at the last minute that he’ll have to work another two weeks without a break.

“Which is fine, because you know, they compensate you for it,” he said.

During his two-week shifts, he is out of town and unavailable for any shoreside events, such as holidays and birthdays, for instance, Oswald explained.

“But, to counter that, you make really good money,” he said, chuckling.

Oswald said he’d tell a high school student who is on the fence about pursuing a maritime career to “not dismiss it.”

He added that he also recommends to students just starting their maritime studies to take advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities at the school, including student government, sports and programs outside of regular classes that allow more hands-on experience with operating vessels.

A maritime career offers myriad opportunities for people who want to work aboard ships, as well as those who want to stay shoreside, Oswald said.

“It’s not just driving boats, and you can lateral over into other things,” he said. “It’s such a unique niche, it makes you stand out.”

“You have a really, really good understanding of the supply chain and what is going on, specifically in Southeast Alaska and around the world,” Oswald said.

He also explained that not only is a maritime career potentially financially lucrative, but it is a very stable career field — experienced, educated mariners always will be needed.

He also echoed Stickwan’s thoughts about the Lund scholarship and how unusually supportive it is.

“Ten grand a semester for all four years, I mean, that’s like — there’s no one at my school who got a scholarship like it,” he said.

“It’s a genuinely life-changing opportunity,” Oswald said. “I got out of college, I have no debt. I was able to, my senior year, buy my own car.”

He said he also was able to rent a nice apartment on his own with no worries as well.

“I can’t say enough good stuff about the Lund scholarship and what it’s done for me,” Oswald said.

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Source: Ketchikan Daily News

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