Meet Cassandra Johnston from Scotia, NY. Cassandra has a B.S. in Marine Transportation from SUNY Maritime and a M.S. in Emergency Management from Massachusetts Maritime Academy. She currently works as a Dynamic Positioning Operator (DPO) and holds a U.S. Coast Guard Second Mate Unlimited Tonnage License, DP Unlimited Certificate, and a Mate (Pilot) License of Towing Vessels Upon Great Lakes, Inland waters & Western Rivers. Cassandra has 8 years of experience working in maritime and offshore operations. We reached out to her to learn more about her successful career:
Cassandra, what inspired you to work on the water?
“I was in the middle of pursuing my degree in criminal justice, when my mother took my brother and I on a cruise. I knew after that week, the only place I wanted to work was at sea on ships. I figured I would finish my criminal justice degree and try to work as ship security, as I knew nothing about the maritime industry. My father steered me in the direction of the academy, saying if I really wanted to work at sea I should become a ship’s officer. The next semester I was at SUNY Maritime starting to work on my degree in marine transportation and USCG Third Mate’s license.”
What has been the most memorable experience during your career so far?
“I spent 3 months sailing in Alaska. The natural beauty up there is just incredible, and I was lucky enough to see it day in and day out for 90 days. I really enjoyed that run.”
If working on the water is a long-term career for you, what motivates you to continue with this career path?
“I certainly hope this is a long-term career for me. I tried working in an office when shipping was in a bit of a downturn, and I can honestly say it was not for me. That keeps me motivated; there is not anything else I’d rather be doing than working on vessels in the capacity that I do.”
What challenges have you faced in your career?
“Being a female in this industry has its own challenges, but I also fall on the smaller end, under 5 ft. There are people in this industry I have come across who will be incredibly negative and write you off based on your size, regardless of your job performance. You just have to realize it’s a problem with them, not you. On the other side of that, many people in my career have given me the benefit of doubt regardless of my gender or size, so all I had to do was my job and prove them right.”
What do you think can be done by your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“I think reaching out to younger women, and showing them what this world is about, may inspire them to pursue a career at sea. A lot of women do not even know the maritime industry is an option for a career path, or that there are really great positions for them if it’s something they are interested in.”
What words of advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?
“This industry is tough, for both men and women. It takes a certain amount of resiliency and it’s not for everyone. However, if you know it’s for you, do not let anyone else’s opinion or actions affect you. Stick with it until you find the role you are suited for, not all positions, companies or ships are created equal.”
Thanks, Cassandra, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. We admire you and wish you the best in your career!