Catastrophe In The Heart Of The Sea
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by gCaptain in 2016 and is being republished now because it’s lessons are timeless and possibly more relevant in 2022 as today’s ships...
Founded in 2017 the Blue Water Scholarship Fund is an American non-profit that provides financial need based scholarships between $1,000 and $10,000 to future US Merchant Mariners attending one of state maritime academies. The organization also provides emergency assistance to cadets facing personal hardships. gCaptain is proud to be an early corporate supporter of the fund.
The story of gCaptain dates back to a difficult past. Our founder, John Konrad, began his maritime training at the United States Naval Academy but when his father, a decorated US Air Force medic and FDNY Firefighter, became terminally ill with cancer. John transferred to NY Maritime College to be closer to home. Despite the proximity to his family, his father’s death and the young age of his siblings put a strain on a rigorous academic and military program. At school, he met our cofounder Cindy Konrad whose father, also a decorated veteran, had passed away of cancer shortly after she graduated high school.
“I remember sneaking off campus to go home and help my young brother, then driving to a minimum wage job at a yacht club in the Bronx then driving to the local supermarket to pick up Cindy from her job as a cashier, then sneaking back on campus to find a notice of demerits for missing a military formation,” said John. “Cindy had a scholarship but it did not pay for the yearly training cruise. Her only option was credit cards that charged exorbitant interest.”
Because you get a college degree and a maritime officer’s license the number of credits the average maritime academy student takes far exceeds that of a normal college making it difficult for many to graduate in four years. In addition to the course load, students looking to obtain a ship officers license are federally mandated to wear uniforms and are subject to military evolutions and discipline.
“I barely squeezed by with a 2.1 GPA and led my class in demerits,” says John. “The regiment possess did not teach emotional intellegence in the late 90’s, it had a sink-or-swim mentality with little empathy and the school was proud of it’s high attrition rate. Alcohol was a common relief for stress exacerbating the problem.”
In the intervening decades most academies have developed counseling services and student support networks but this only solves half of the problem. The financial challenges have only grown in recent years as tuitions for state colleges have skyrocketed. Many of today’s cadets graduate with student loan obligations exceeding $100,000.
“I was always on the knife’s edge,” said John. “I still can’t believe we made it through. If tuitions back then where as high as they are today it would have been even more tempting to give up. An organization like the Blue Water Scholarship Fund would have been an enormous help back then which is why I enthusiastically support it today.”
While many college scholarship programs do exist in the US, Blue Water Scholarships is different because it focuses on maritime education and is one of the few programs available to students who struggle to maintain high grade point averages while dealing with financial or family difficulties back home.
“We knew there would be kids needing help,” says Blue Water cofounder Jamie Cleveland. “We didn’t understand that we would get some of the stories we have. Everything from ‘My family’s business burnt down’ to ‘my mother just died of cancer’ are actual stories we have received and in emergency situations we have funded cadets in less than 48 hours.”
Blue Water Scholarships provides more than cash. “They have our personal mobile numbers,” says Blue Water cofounder John Curtin. “They can call us anytime day or night and we are available for them.”
State maritime academy students can apply for a Blue Water Scholarship Fund via this link. Individuals and corporations can donate here.
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