The Power Of Mentorship

My name is Christine Spencer. I am a Sales and Marketing Support Representative at COSCO Shipping North America. I completed a masters of science in International Transportation Management at SUNY Maritime College in December of 2019. I packed up my psychology degree, a life in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, and a career for a chance to thrive in the maritime industry.

Although every career change or entry requires a learning curve the maritime industry has a unique set of challenges to the average newcomer that must be addressed to succeed. To begin, although our industry is vast it operates largely incognito. For those who are not aware of where to look. This becomes a particular challenge when attempting to break into the industry by building connections. For an industry that relies heavily on networking, the space to do so can be hard to locate without having a guide on where and who to look for. In addition, the maritime world speaks its own language and requires its own vocabulary that can be very difficult to grasp on one's own. Lastly, the complexity of this global industry is so large and at times so divided that it can be difficult for a newcomer to piece together the various necessary entities that make up global shipping into one cohesive picture.

With the unique challenges it is crucial for any newcomer to have at minimum one dedicated mentor. I was fortunate enough to have several. Professor Drogan (SUNY Maritime), who I never had the pleasure of taking a course with, found me aimlessly wandering around the halls of our graduate building and invited me into his office to chat. That chat led to countless conversations full of wisdom and to organizations such as the Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) and Young Shipping Professionals (YSP.) Having this one mentor spurred my personal and professional development and led me to new contacts that were essential to my learning. By attending a CMA lunch I met another mentor, Captain Peter Swift, who is the General Manager for the Maritime Industry Foundation (MIF). Captain Swift allowed me to work alongside him and for the foundation which promotes education and awareness of the maritime industry globally. This was a crucial turning point for my success in the industry. Through Captain Swift and the connections he shared I was able to attend the CMA Shipping Conference, the largest shipping conference in North America, and Marine Money NYC.

At these events I was able to be inspired by dozens of women attending a WISTA luncheon and meet industry professionals I would have never had the chance to otherwise meet. One of these being Carleen Walker. At the WISTA luncheon, I had the pleasure of sitting with Carleen (Co-Founder and Executive Director of NAMEPA) and being stunned by the amount she was involved in. As I attended more events I became better connected with her. She so graciously volunteered her time to meet one on one with me. Although the purpose of the meeting was to provide career guidance, she took the time to tell me her story. A story of a woman who forged her way in a male dominated industry and succeeded time and time again. I also had the honor of witnessing Carleen in action at Shipping Insight 2020 and NAMEPA’s Annual Conference. The combination of the time I have spent with her and what I have seen Carleen accomplish, has further inspired me to be a strong woman with a name for myself in this industry while continuing to persevere and adapt overtime.

NAMEPA’s conference was a breath of fresh air. It was wonderful to witness NAMEPA’s passion for education. There were more student attendees than I had seen at any of the conferences, including many in high school. Art made by elementary schools from all over the United States filled the room. The art featured inspiring scenes of women of color being mates on ships and healthy sea animals in clear waters. I could go through an entire list of mentors I have so gratefully had the experience of working with even after graduation and into my professional role in the industry.

I could also list wonderful moments I have witnessed due to their kindness. However, the point is not who in particular helped me or what I have been so fortunate to attend, it is what these mentors did for my development that is crucial for readers to take away from this article.

For those of you who have been in the industry, regardless of your role today, take time to remember what it was like entering it (no matter how you came to do so.) The learning curve can be intimidating and we can all admit to that. It is important to remember as we move forward how we can serve as mentors to newcomers in our industry.

The maritime industry is in flux, we are evolving at a rapid pace and at a point where working together to achieve goals is necessary. To reach the innovation we desire to achieve and to continue the legacy of the great work done before new participants must have a guide. This guide must be willing to take the time necessary to point them in the direction of events, people, resources and beyond that will continue to expound and eventually lead to their development as a leader, innovator and active participant in an industry we all love.

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