Meet Angela Sampson from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Angela has a Bachelor’s Degree from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Marine Safety and Environmental Protection, as well as a Master’s Degree from University of Edinburgh in Scotland in Environmental Sustainability.

Angela worked as an Environmental Officer for 6 years on cruise ships. She took her experience ashore recently to become an Environmental Health and Safety Engineer at a toy company. We caught up with Angela to learn about her time on cruise ships, as the first American female officer in her fleet:

Angela, what inspired you to work on the water?

“My Dad is a Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) graduate, so I have heard his sea stories my entire life. Also, I am incredibly passionate about wildlife, whether found on land, sea, or air. This really helped develop my empathy for all animals, literally great and small. It is because of my love for animals I decided to join cruise ships as an Environmental Officer, so I would become a steward for marine wildlife.”

Please share a memorable experience you’ve had at sea.

“One of my most memorable experiences at sea involved my last contract aboard a ship I had been assigned my entire career. As I was signing off the ship, a second engineer, one of whom I trusted his feedback and had become friends with, told me in his Greek accent: “Angela, if anyone has to to yell at us, I am glad it is you, because if you are yelling, it means something is wrong.” Not to be lost in translation, the engineer meant he was grateful I was auditing the engine room’s environmental compliance procedures and policies. That statement validated my presence on the ship. For six years, I had tirelessly worked to prove why Environmental Officers are integral on cruise ships. I had trained, and educated crew, staff, and officers on the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship. While I was often perceived by some officers and crew as a “cop”, and my Environmental Officer position was viewed with suspicion, this engineer’s compliment made my hard work worthwhile. He made me realize, that my hard work, passion, and tenacity had paid off. This second engineer had observed my true intention, to help make the marine environment a safer, cleaner place not just for our guests, but for the marine animals that call ocean their home.”

Since you are no longer working on the water, how did your work experience on vessels enable or benefit your current position on shore?

“While I no longer work on ships, the lessons I learned while on deck and in the engine room have remained with me. I feel I grew up aboard cruise ships and many of the life lessons I learned while underway have carried me through many challenges and opportunities at my shore side position.”

What challenges have you faced in your career?

“When I was hired, I was the first American female officer aboard the cruise ship company I worked for. The captain advised me on my first day, “to leave my office, walk on the gangway and return home, get married, and have a baby, because you belong in the kitchen.” Responding in the most professional manner, I looked the captain in the eye, and replied: “Sir, I look forward to proving you wrong and I will see you on the bridge for the pre- departure meeting.” Since that day I have worked tirelessly to prove and demonstrate my hard work ethic and the significance in having an environmental officer aboard cruise ships.”

What do you think can be done in your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?

“At MMA, the student body was very welcoming and I was treated as an equal and held to the same standards as male cadets. I never had an issue while at MMA and I was completely naive to the potential challenges that exist of not being easily accepted on ships. I believe the ship industry is changing and becoming more open minded, however, it would be wonderful if female shipping industry representatives could visit the various maritime schools and present on “the day in the life of a female mariner.” This presentation could assist female cadets transition from the academies to shipboard life.”

Thank you, Angela, for being a pioneer as one of the very first American female officers on large cruise ships. We admire you and thank you for sharing your career with us.