Five Decades of Outstanding WomenCelebrating the 50th Anniversary of Female Students at Maine Maritime Academy
Five Decades of Outstanding WomenCelebrating the 50th Anniversary of Female Students at Maine Maritime Academy
Photo collage of six women

Maine Maritime Academy was founded in 1941 with its first class of 29 students graduating in 1943. It wasn’t until 1974 that MMA welcomed its first female student, Deborah Doane Dempsey. As we reflect on the celebration of 50 years of women at MMA, we might ask ourselves what we are truly celebrating. Surely it is not that women have become stronger, more capable, more driven, or wiser — women have been all these things since the beginning. Perhaps the celebration is that we as a nation and as an MMA community have moved a step closer to recognizing what has been true all along, that gender should not limit what we dream of, whether it be a life at sea, in the lab, in the boardroom or the home.

Let us today celebrate 50 years of women free to dream big dreams. Let us recognize their achievements not as women rising in male dominated professions but as individuals who through education and hard work have achieved their ambitions.

In commemoration of our 50-year milestone, we had conversations with six MMA graduates to talk about their time at the academy and beyond. The women highlighted below are just a sampling of the skilled, accomplished, and varied individuals who have built their academic and professional foundations at Maine Maritime Academy.

Cdr. Kimberly A. Croke (HOON) ’87
(MSE) USCG Retired
It was her love of the ocean and a desire to make a living on the water that drew Kimberly Croke to Castine. At first, she considered attending the Coast Guard Academy, but looking back, she is thankful she was able to benefit from the broader, less restrictive opportunities that MMA offered.

Kimberly Croke at work

When Croke graduated, she found shipping jobs hard to find and decided to join the US Coast Guard for three years as a stepping stone to other opportunities and a way in which she could network and learn firsthand how the companies she was interested in conducted their businesses. This decision turned into a rewarding career in the Coast Guard which allowed her to travel extensively in the US and abroad and retire in 2010 having earned the distinguished rank of Commander.

Croke states that among her proudest accomplishments, both professionally and personally, is her time spent helping during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Stationed at Sector New Orleans as the Logistics Officer, she was responsible for coordinating the delivery of everything from fuel, food, water, and all essential supplies to the areas affected by the storm.

Croke says, “My life would have taken a completely different direction had I not attended MMA. The hands-on education and real-life experiences made a world of difference. I wasn’t just another student number at a big school, which gave me the confidence to do things I might not have otherwise done. My success in the Coast Guard was built on the foundations laid during my time at MMA. I am very proud to be an MMA grad!”

Lindsay Smith ’00
(MET) Norwegian Cruise Line
Starting her career on an offshore drilling ship, Smith eventually joined Norwegian Cruise Lines, where she rose through the ranks to become Chief Engineer. Her promotion in 2014 marked a significant milestone as the first female Chief Engineer in a major cruise line.

Reflecting on her MMA experience, Smith credits the academy for instilling crucial skills such as adaptability and informed decision-making. Mentorship from individuals like Professor Mike Young ’77 further shaped her career path.

Lindsay Smith

Beyond academics, Smith highlights the impact of playing basketball at MMA, emphasizing the importance of teamwork in both personal and professional life.

Smith’s journey exemplifies MMA’s commitment to preparing students for successful careers, showcasing the blend of academic excellence, practical skills, and teamwork fostered at the academy.

Crystal Parker Maass ’06
(MTO) Inhabit Real Estate
Crystal Parker Maass always knew that she wanted to make a career working on the water. She also had a love of basketball, so it didn’t take her too much time to realize that MMA and the women’s basketball team were the right fit for her.

As a student at MMA, Parker Maass showed herself to be a leader. She became not only the women’s basketball team captain but the first female regimental commander.

“Leadership does not necessarily mean that you are the most skilled,” explains Parker Maass. “You need to be willing to work hard, have the right attitude, and build a good team.”

Parker Maass’ position as Regimental Commander was earned through hard work, commitment, and dedication. Parker Maass worked her way up through the ranks and proved herself to be the best candidate. “I always took the Regiment very seriously as a training ground for the jobs it prepares us for. We are doing these activities to prepare for life on a ship.”

Crystal Parker Maass

After graduation from MMA, Parker Maass spent over a decade at sea, obtaining her unlimited master’s license before transitioning her career to shoreside. Through her many years of experience, Parker Maass says one of the biggest lessons she has learned is the importance of transforming competition into collaboration. “The more we support each other, the greater success we will all achieve.”

MMA set Parker Maass on a course for success and gave her the tools and confidence to accomplish her goals. In each phase of life, she believes it’s necessary to redefine what success means, and currently, she defines that as ‘having a rich and full family life.’

Andi St. Pierre (Flannery) ’14
(IBL) EMD Electronics
St. Pierre’s original plans for her education did not include Maine Maritime Academy. A chance event led her to check out the school and within two weeks St. Pierre had fallen in love with the campus and the community and enrolled in the logistics program. “I didn’t even know what Logistics meant,” states St. Pierre. “When I tried to google it, I came up short.” Fortunately, St. Pierre was soon to cross paths with Don Maier, her first logistics professor, who sparked in her a lifelong interest in the subject. “He possessed a true passion for the industry.”

St. Pierre has carried this passion forward into her career with EMD Electronics. “Our company started small, but we have grown significantly year over year. Handling that growth and the demand for parts has been challenging, but also very exciting. I have always aspired to be a leader, and now that I lead a team, I love it.”

Andi St. Pierre

Additionally, St. Pierre is sharing her knowledge and expertise with students as an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Hampshire, teaching Sustainable Sourcing. Leading and giving back to her students is where she finds the greatest sense of accomplishment—sharing the passion she experienced from her past professors and coaches at MMA to help her students grow and gain confidence in their field.

Abby L’Abbe ’20
(MS) US Navy
When applying to colleges, L’Abbe was interested in a school that would incorporate hands-on learning while providing her with real world skills. Once she learned more about the Maine Maritime Academy Ocean Studies department and found that she could pair a Marine Science Degree with a limited tonnage license through the Small Vessels Operations (SVO) major, she was hooked.

Upon graduation, L’Abbe was commissioned into the United States Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer and completed a three-year sea tour onboard USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) and a seven-month 6th fleet deployment which took her to Europe and the Arctic Circle.

“Most importantly, MMA taught me that you are never alone and always have resources and people to lean on.”

To end her time at sea, in early 2023 L’Abbe transitioned into the Meteorology and Oceanography (METOC) Community in the Navy, dusted off her Marine Science knowledge and started a new job at the Fleet Weather Center in Norfolk, VA, providing support to the Navy’s air, surface and subsurface assets operating across numerous fleets.

Abby L'Abbe

“I can say without a doubt MMA prepared me for post-MMA endeavors. I excelled far above my naval peers in basic shipboard skills such as the ones I learned in my Terrestrial Navigation course which aided my speedy accession to become an Officer of the Deck. I was taught to think critically, oftentimes start from scratch and dig deep into my resources to gain knowledge to find solutions — a scientific research skill that I have now applied to my everyday life, personally and professionally. The principles instilled in me have allowed me to form deep professional connections based on mutual understanding of the importance of respect and timeliness. Most importantly, MMA taught me that you are never alone and always have resources and people to lean on.”

Zayna Dickson
(MTO) US Navy Reserves, Delta Company Commander
Dickson is currently a junior at MMA studying Marine Transportation Operations. While her interest in the MMA training ship, the NROTC, and Marine Transportation Programs are what initially drew her to MMA, Dickson says her time in Castine has been nothing short of transformative.

“On summer cruise ’22 I remember the satisfaction of working a week on an emergency escape hatch on the stern. I spent many days learning how to use a needle gun, repaint, and repair the rusted hinge. I felt so accomplished repairing an entire hatch. It seems like such a trivial job, but at that point in my time at MMA, I had never been entrusted with a large job. As a freshman it was the first time I had really felt proud of my work and confident in myself.”

Zayna Dickson

Dickson will be commissioned as a Naval Officer in May of 2025 and hopes to serve as a Surface Warfare Officer and sail on Destroyers. After the Navy, Dickson plans to sail on Ro-Ro, deep-sea container, or tanker vessels.

As we can see through the example of these accomplished women, the role of women in the maritime industry has greatly expanded over the last 50 years since MMA saw its first female student. Women mariners are sought after for their skills, knowledge, strength, and leadership. Maine Maritime Academy is proud to watch the future of women mariners, business leaders, and scientists unfold and to play a part in the training of outstanding female leaders in their industries. A heartfelt thank you to all the women who participated in this article, and we wish you well in all your future endeavors.

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