President’s Watch

Back to School

Returning and learning at MMA

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Jerald “JP” Paul ’89

IN THIS FIRST President’s Watch since being entrusted with the leadership of Maine Maritime Academy, it is an honor to share some early thoughts.

I arrived in Castine as a MUG 37 years ago. Upon return, I see continuity coupled with change. I value both as I learn from our faculty, staff, students, and town residents. In 2022 we also have major challenges . . . but they are equally met with enormous opportunity.

Like 8,000 other alumni, Maine Maritime Academy provided me with a structure for learning, growing, and developing. Walking up and down the hill, standing watches at all hours on the ship, managing rigorous course loads, and jobs from work-study to town jobs combined for a challenge that pressed my limits. It was not easy. But it made the rest of life easier.

That MMA Experience makes a lasting impact. It builds character. It reinforces discipline, reliability, dependability, and a “get-it-done” spirit that is central to the Maine culture. Higher standards— what I now call “The Mariner Standard”—came both from responsibilities that were required and from the values demonstrated around me by mentors such as then-President Ken Curtis ’52. A combination of self-help and shipboard team effort taught me to focus less on excuses and more on personal responsibility marshalled toward achieving big goals. As I tell students and parents now, “MMA did not get the most out of me . . . it got me to get the most out of me.”

MMA also helped me learn how to learn. When I wanted to pursue paths that would require preparation in math and science not yet available through our curriculum, faculty members (namely, Dr. Groves Herrick and others he assembled) built one-on-one self-study courses for me such as differential equations and advanced engineering mathematics. They also guided me through preparation for the EIT Engineering exam which, at that time, was not often taken by MMA students. They showed me how to seek and assemble a team of experts whose knowledge and expertise could guide me. That lesson has served me well through decades of service.

At MMA, I learned to look past limitations of status quo and instead map a course to greater heights. I learned that there are MMA faculty and staff with that same spirit. It exists to this day. As stated by Claire Felix, MMA Class of 2022 Senior Scholar Athlete, “Finding a way to do it is what being a Mariner is all about.” We need only to identify and elevate these people and this spirit within our organization.

That MMA Experience works. The quality of life enjoyed by most MMA graduates proves it. Like many, I arrived at MMA a blue-collar kid, but my MMA years gave me the foundation for future success.

MMA also instilled motivation to help others through service-over-self as shipmates do, working together as One Ship. It prompted me to create a scholarship for MMA students two decades ago. Similarly, along with my wife, Kristy, we returned to MMA this year to join a team committed to service for future generations of Mariners.

The return has been everything we imagined and more. We’ve found opportunity to serve in ways that we predicted. In greater measure, however, we have been blessed with additional opportunities to serve as we synchronize with our current MMA and town, which has been a great learning experience. Coming back to school, back to this school, has been a wonderful learning experience. Former President Brennan stated it well in his farewell letter: “Learning is not what you do only in your school years. It’s what you do every day of your life in order to seek new understandings and new appreciations.”

In this role as leader of an institution within higher education, I am thoroughly enjoying learning the unique dynamics of MMA collaboration and shared governance that are the foundation of decision making in academia. We have much talent here from which to draw. And we have diverse perspectives that make for rich contributions and new ideas.

Compared with the 80s, we also have more opportunities that can be leveraged for MMA to become The #1 Maritime College in the World (a topic ripe for more detailed discussion in an upcoming President’s Watch). Kristy and I are grateful to everyone who has welcomed us home. I personally thank each of you within the MMA Community and Castine who, once again, have rallied around me in “self-study courses” as our community maps a course for our MMA of the Future.

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Jerald “JP” Paul ’89, President