Dispatches from the Front

Massachusetts Maritime Academy alumni have always found themselves on the "doing" end of things, something that has changed little during this crisis. Whether they're in the fight themselves, supporting those who are, or leading the charge, they all agree that what they took away from their experience at the Academy is a critical component to not only their personal and professional success, but more importantly, what they are contributing now in the fight against the coronavirus.


Bob Coughlin ’91 (above left w/ the Lt. Governor and Governor) and his colleagues in the Commonwealth’s Life Sciences community did not have to wait for directions to realize what needed to be done. As the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, he was instrumental in leading the Massachusetts Life Sciences Emergency Supply Hub “build out” to ensure that frontline healthcare workers had the PPE they needed through donations from companies here in the state. Playing a vital role in ensuring that government, academia, and industry all work together - something that’s difficult enough even in “normal” times - now they’re trying to figure out how to develop solutions for problems they’ve never faced before in order to invent therapies, vaccines, and tests for COVID-19. Throughout it all, Coughlin knows this: “The most important thing that a Massachusetts Maritime Academy education prepares you for is how to solve problems, no matter how challenging or complex. We saw there was a problem, and we developed a solution…and THAT is the MMA way.”

“The 42 North Solutions team is ready to do what it takes to get the job done and meet our clients goals…and all of that comes right back to the founding principles from MMA.” So says Rob DeCoste ‘02, who along with fellow Buccaneer Dan Ramsey ’06 founded their company in 2016. Though in DeCoste’s own words they’re still a “Mom and Pop” shop, that ethos they’ve created has already paid big dividends. In a crisis, those intangibles may spell the difference between success and failure, something that has now become increasingly important during this pandemic. Supporting a Cambridge based Biotech company urgently working to create a COVID-19 vaccine, DeCoste tries to put it in perspective, saying “we have the opportunity to be part of saving our economy as well as mankind as we know it.”

George M. Player ’86 is Vice President of Facilities and Operations at a world class Academic Medical Center in Brookline. He’s been in healthcare for almost three decades and now finds himself in the forefront of the pandemic. Player has a number of MMA grads working with him every day in the Engineering and Emergency Management Departments where, as a leader within the Logistics Branch of the Incident Command system, daily activities center on PPE supply and distribution 24/7.  “Our responsibility is to adapt, innovate, solve problems, and manage our hospital mechanical systems to provide a safe environment for our patients and staff,” Player remarks. “The training and traits developed at MMA allow us to work through unforeseen challenges in a calm manner to make good decisions in a rapidly changing environment.”  Sharing best practices, lessons learned, as well as designing and building equipment to keep patients and staff out of harm's way, Player’s #1 priority remains simple. “I want everyone to be safe.”


Joseph Watts ‘81 has been at it almost four decades with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) and is aboard the COMFORT in New York City. When the call came last month he was in the middle of a major inspection overhaul, and as Chief Engineer, it was on him to make things happen. Unfazed and with a typical MMA can do attitude, Joe Watts and the 34 engineers he oversees got underway in record time. He knows what MMA delivers, it’s why his son is part of the incoming class of ‘24. “The Academy taught us how to learn and work together. Look several moves down the board to formulate a plan…then refine, execute, and adjust as required. When building a team, ask questions of yourself and others, then look for the best in each team member because everyone has something to contribute.”

Fast forward a decade and you’ll find Captain David Murrin ’91, whose almost three decade career at the helm is also impressive. A Licensed Master (unlimited) Ocean Steam or Motor Vessels of Any Gross Tons Upon All Oceans, Dave is currently “standing by” in his hometown of Annapolis, MD. “I got off COMFORT a couple months ago and am now on Restriction of Movement (ROM) orders as alternate for MERCY and COMFORT…I've captained both. I was due back on COMFORT to relieve Captain Lindey in May so he could attend his daughter’s college graduation, but of course that changed.” Sheltering in place, Dave checks in with headquarters every morning, ready to go at a moment’s notice. On his long relationship with MMA, Murrin notes, "One of the most valuable qualities developed at MMA is the ability to thrive within a system where recognition of priorities, obstacles, and boundaries between life's way points seemed to be more easily navigated. There is a clear difference in the general character or approach to a sea going carrier that was made more apparent in years of sponsoring Maritime Cadets on MSC ships. Over my 30 years I've witnessed many new ship's officers run afoul of rookie mistakes, some laughable...others career enders. These were mistakes a fully matriculated Buccaneer would never make."


Though Boston Police Sergeant Samil Silta has a 25-year resume packed with professional credentials, he says it is his Master of Science in Emergency Management (MSEM) from Mass Maritime that has set him apart from the herd. And he would know.  He’s been tapped as Operations Sergeant for Tactical Operations at Boston’s Hope Medical Center for the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduating from MMA, I feel 100% prepared to handle this challenge. I was taught to work in tight timeframes outside my comfort zone, and how to leverage people’s skill sets to get assignments completed to the highest level. I know I have the knowledge, composure, and leadership ability. MMA’s reputation precedes itself, and it’s opened new doors for me!”

After two decades in public education, Ontario native Jennifer Startek currently serves as the Director of Education in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Mass General Hospital. She’s supporting her physicians so that they can focus on the ever-shifting playbook of managing COVID-19 at what is now the busiest hospital in Boston. Of her MMA experience, Startek says “The MSEM program provided so much more than an education.  I gained a great deal of confidence which allowed me to transition into a completely different career. I am in this position because of MMA’s well known reputation.”

If you or someone you know in the MMA family has a COVID-19 story to tell, we want to hear about it. Send an email to Chuck Richardson in the Advancement Office at crichardson@maritime.edu.