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Paige Jehnke


Great Lakes Maritime Academy
Traverse City, Michigan
22 years old

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Life has a way of helping you find your path. Paige Jehnke planned to obtain a degree in art history, but after graduating from high school she took a year off and went to Alaska where she volunteered for AmeriCorps. Discovering she didn’t like a desk job led Jehnke to work in outdoor recreation for a year. She sailed in the Sea of Cortez on Drascomb Longboats learning about navigation first hand. That led her back to Alaska where she was a kayak guide, charting kayaking routes in glacial fjords. It was also were she met individuals who worked for NOAA and the commercial fishing industry. Those experiences convinced her that navigation was fun and might be something to seriously pursue as a career.

When she returned home to Rochester, Minnesota, she decided to tour the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Michigan. It was during her physical exam for entrance into the Academy that Jehnke was told she was color blind and was therefore ineligible to be licensed as a 3rd mate.  Although the news was disappointing, she was happy to learn that she could still work in the industry and is currently a 2nd year engineering student who will also graduate with a business degree.

While class subjects are rigorous – pre-Calculus and diesel mechanics among others – Jehnke finds the curriculum intellectually stimulating as they are specifically designed to help the cadets with their hands-on training. “I’ve enjoyed the classroom aspect of the Academy as it is focused on learning not only what we need to know once we actually get out on the water, but about the industry as well.”

Cadets are required to participate in Sea Projects where they get to perform the practical aspects of navigating in the Great Lakes. During the months of May and June first year students are aboard the Academy’s training vessel, the State of Michigan. Jehnke completed her first Sea Project where she was able to stand watch, track systems, and transfer fuels. Two additional Sea Projects are scheduled for the coming year with Great Lakes shipping companies who take on the cadets as interns.

Jehnke interned on the Isle Royale Ferry, a National Park Service vessel, out of Houghton, Michigan, where for two weeks she was able to participate in testing a ballast water treatment system.  She served under two Academy graduates – the captain and assistant engineer.

That experience was most gratifying. “I really liked the fact that my training was hands-on. I got to do actual work and ask lots of questions.” Of her co-workers and trainers, Jehnke is equally enthusiastic.  “Everyone I’ve worked with has been extremely helpful, encouraging, and it’s clear they want me to succeed. Captain Hanrahan in particular wants my training to be well-rounded so I’m as prepared as I can be. My supervisors on board took every opportunity to allow us to ask questions and we had lively discussions during meal times and our down time. I couldn’t ask for better support.”